Introduction to Sea Buckthorn
Table of Contents
Agronomic and Environmental
Figure 1. One of many small birds nests found within the Sea buckthorn shrubs.
The Sea buckthorns are deciduous shrubs that typically range from 0.5 to 6 m in height with equivalent spread, but may reach up to 18 m in central Asia. The staminate trees are more erect than the spreading pistillate trees. It naturally tends to sucker forming thickets if not properly maintained. They can survive temperatures as low as - 40°C, and are both drought and salt tolerant. Sea buckthorns require full sunlight for good growth and cannot tolerate shady conditions near larger trees. The branches are dense, stiff, and very thorny with both terminal and axillary twig spines. The linear or lanceolate shaped leaves, which are 3 to 8 cm long and less than 7 mm wide, are dark grey-green on the upper surface and a distinct pale, silvery-grey on the lower surface. Sea buckthorn is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. Flowers emerge prior to the leaves, are localized to the 2nd year-old wood, and occur in small racemes in the leaf axils along the entire length of the branch. Pollination of the female flowers occurs in mid-May, and is entirely dependent on wind to spread pollen from the male flowers. Fruit ripening occurs about 100 days after pollination. Sea buckthorn fruit can vary in both shape and colour, but are typically globose to egg-shaped berries ranging from yellow to bright orange in colour. The combination of fruit shape and size, together with the contrast between the colour of the fruit and leaves, contributes to the ornamental value of this plant.
Figure 2. Newly planted Sea buckthorn produced from runners (in foreground). This picture was taken in mid September 2005 near Wingham, ON. The summer's buckwheat cover crop had been ploughed under and rye grass planted between rows.
Figure 3. Left Panel: Three year old sea buckthorn trees near Wingham, ON (2005). Right Panel: Four year old trees from the same orchard (2006)
When only a few trees are grown, the berries can be readily harvested by hand, requiring about the same amount of effort as harvesting raspberries. Although the thorniness of the sea buckthorn bushes can be a problem, young plants may be relatively thorn free. Some thornless varieties are currently available, and future breeding efforts should increase their numbers. As the number of trees in the orchard increases, so does the work required for harvesting the berries. Figures from China indicate that up to 1500 person hours per hectare are required for hand harvesting. Hand harvesting at the Wingham area orchard suggests the time to hand harvest per hectare may be significantly higher than 1500 hours, especially when trying to harvest intact berries. The fruit are strongly attached, and are not easily stripped from the branches. Experienced pickers were able to harvest intact fruit at rates of 1-1.5 kg per hour. The difficulty of removing the fruit from the tree diminishes as the season progresses. Unfortunately, fruit quality also decreases over this same period, so optimum times for harvest will need to be identified for individual growing areas. Successful commercial operation of a sea buckthorn orchard will ultimately require the development and implementation of some type of mechanical harvester. Several types have been developed, including a vibratory shaker invented in Saskatchewan. As with any crop grown for nutraceutical, medicinal or culinary use, post-harvest handling of sea buckthorn berries should conform to approved Good Agricultural Practices standards. After cleaning, the berries should be processed as soon as possible, but may be either stored at low temperature (4 to 6°C), or flash frozen if immediate processing is not feasible. The shelf life of berries stored at low temperature can be up to 2 weeks. Berries maintain their shape when thawed after freezing. The fruit harvested from the Wingham orchard is currently being used in both fresh and frozen products which are sold at a farmers market near Huntsville. The fruit is processed into a variety of products, including jelly, juice extracts, nectar salsa and bread made from the pulp and seeds following juice extraction. Young leaves have been dried and ground for use as a tea.
Figure 4. Berry yield from 3 year old sea buckthorn trees (left picture). Maximum fruit set occurs in trees 4 years and older (right picture).
Figure 5. Pruned branch from a 4 year old tree. Berries were later removed by hand for further processing.
Figure 6. Pruned branches ready for transport to the barn for berry removal.
Figure 7. Four year old sea buckthorn orchard as seen from 200 metres. Note the abundance of berries, each of which is no more than 2 cm in length.
As with any alternative crop, new growers should educate themselves
on the cost of production and the market potential of sea buckthorn.
Furthermore, prior to making any claims about the nutraceutical
or medicinal properties of sea buckthorn, growers must ensure that
these claims fall within the regulations established by the Natural
Health Products Directorate of Health Canada.
Li, T.S.C and Beveridge, T.H.J. 2003. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L.): Production and Utilization. NRC Research Press, Ottawa. (www.monographs.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca)
Zeb, A. 2004. Important therapeutic uses of sea buckthorn (Hippophae): A review. J. of Biological Sciences 4(5): 687-693
This infosheet was authored by Jim Todd, Transition Crop Specialist,
Crop Technology Branch, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and
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