Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nutmeg – Money shedding trees...

Nutmeg trees are large evergreen tropical trees which grow average 12 Meters and can even grow up to 20 meters,based on the nutmeg type. Nutmeg is seed of the tree and weighs between 5g and 10g (0.2 and 0.4 oz) dried, while mace is the dried lacy reddish covering or aril of the seed.

The nutmeg tree is native to the Maluku (the Spice Islands) and is now cultivated in various parts of the world. Major nutmeg cultivation areas include Banda islands in Indonesia, Penang in Malaysia, Grenada in the Caribbean, and Kerala a southern state in India.

In 1512, Vasco de Gama reached Maluku, which is part of “spice islands”, belonging to Indonesia at present and claimed the islands for Portugal. To preserve their monopoly Portuguese and later the Dutch restricted the trees to the islands. They were cautious about keeping the seeds within the island. To protect against seed propagation, the Dutch even bathed the seeds in lime, which would prevent them from growing. However, birds carried the seeds and scattered it. When there was an abundant harvest, the Dutch even burned nutmeg to keep its supply under control. Despite the precautions, the French led by Pierre Poivre a French horticulturalist, smuggled nutmeg seeds to the island of Mauritius, near Madagascar. In 1796 the British took over the Maluku and spread the cultivation to other East Indian islands and then to the Caribbean, mainly Grenada. Nutmeg was so successful in Grenada it now calls itself the Nutmeg Island, designing its flag in the green, yellow and red colors of nutmeg and including a graphic image of nutmeg in one corner.Nutmeg has been a major foreign exchange earner for Grenada, accounting for 23 per cent share in European nutmeg market. It was the biggest exporter after Indonesia, which has 70 per cent market share in Europe.

Nutmeg was introduced in India by the British in the 18th century. Viswashree, the nutmeg variety developed by scientists at the Indian Institute of Spices Research (IISR) in Kozhikode, is now a favorite with farmers in Indian states. Viswashree is in many ways unique since it is the only nutmeg variety in the world that has been developed by scientists.Authorities in Grenada, West Indies, invited IISR scientists to offer solutions to the crisis in the nutmeg sector there after Ivan, a hurricane, devastated nutmeg trees in large numbers. Nearly 90 percent of the nutmeg trees in Grenada were uprooted by the hurricane, precipitating a crisis in the country's economy.Though Viswashree may be the answer to Grenada's nutmeg problems, it would need the Indian Government's approval for growing this variety.

Like in any other filed, India is prospering to become the world's largest nutmeg producing nation.

Traditionally, small farmers have used "volunteer plants" as seedlings for planting. These seedlings have their origin from fallen seeds that have germinated and grown in and around the parent plant. The farmers may use seedlings at two stages of development, the young undeclared plants, plants which have not flowered, or the more mature declared plants, which have flowered and thus the sex could be identified. In the latter instance plants that produced female flowers and then fruits will be selected.The best practice before planting young nutmeg tree is to pre-establish shade.Plantain can commonly selected as the crop of choice to provide temporary shade for young nutmeg plants.

When the planting material is undeclared seedlings the common practice is to plant three seedlings at a planting site, 60 cm apart in the form of an equilateral triangle. The shade requirements for transplants are:

Up to 2 years 50% overhead shade plus ground shade
2 to 4 years 40% overhead shade plus ground shade
4 to 5 years 30% overhead shade plus ground shade
6 years 15% overhead shade plus ground shade
7 years and older No shade

Shade should be reduced gradually so as to minimize shock. At the first flowering usually at 4-7 years, the male plants are destroyed leaving one female per planting site. Some farmers may leave a few male trees in the field to encourage cross-pollination. This practice is declining. However, no studies have been reported that show the correlation between presence of male flowering trees and the quantity and quality of fruits and seeds that are produced by the female plant.

There is all to gether a different variety of nutmegs which grows in Myristica swamp area of western ghats in south India. The species is Myristica malabarica(kattujathi in malayalam).This is now in red list of threatened species.

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