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          MORINGA

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  About the plant

The Moringaceae is a single-genus family of oilseed trees with 14 known species. Of these, Moringa oleifera, which ranges in height from 5 to 10 m, is the most widely known and utilized. Moringa oleifera, indigenous to sub-Himalayan regions of northwest India, Africa, Arabia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Caribbean Islands and South America, is now distributed in the Philippines, Cambodia and Central and North America. It thrives best in a tropical insular climate and is plentiful near the sandy beds of rivers and. The fast growing, drought-tolerant Moringa oleifera can tolerate poor soil, a wide rainfall range (25 to 300+ cm per year), and soil pH from 5.0 to 9.0. When fully mature, dried seeds are round or triangular shaped, and the kernel is surrounded by a lightly wooded shell with three papery wings. Moringa oleifera seeds contain between 33 and 41% w/w of vegetable oil, it has been investigated that the composition of Moringa oleifera, including its fatty acid profile and found that Moringa oleifera oil is high in oleic acid (>70%). Moringa oleifera is commercially known as ‘‘ben oil” or ‘‘behen oil”, due to its content of behenic (docosanoic) acid, possesses significant resistance to oxidative degradation, and has been extensively used in the enfleurage process. Moringa oleifera has many medicinal uses and has significant nutritional value. A recent experiment conducted on 12 indigenous (India) plant-derived non-traditional oils concluded that Moringa oleifera oil, among others, has good potential for biodiesel production. The seeds contain around 30–40% of oil, which has been identified as a source of bio-fuel and has medicinal value.

Distribution and habitat

Moringa oleifera is native of India, occurring wild in the sub-Himalayan regions of Northern India, and now grown world-wide in the tropics and sub-tropics. It is already an important crop in India, Ethiopia, the Philippines and the Sudan, and is being grown in West, East and South Africa, tropical Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Florida and the Pacific Islands. Commonly known as the 'horse-radish' tree (arising from the taste of a condiment prepared from the roots) or 'drumstick' tree (arising from the shape of the pods), Moringa oleifera has a host of other country specific vernacular names, an indication of the significance of the tree around the world.

General description

Moringa is a slender softwood tree that branches freely, and can be extremely fast growing. Although it can reach heights in excess of 10 m (33 ft), it is generally considered a small- to medium-size tree. Tripinnate compound leaves are feathery with green to dark green elliptical leaflets 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in) long. The tree is often mistaken for a legume because of its leaves. Conspicuous, lightly fragrant flowers are borne on inflorescences 10–25 cm (4–10 in) long, and are generally white to cream colored, although they can be tinged with pink in some varieties. The fruits are tri-lobed capsules, and are frequently referred to as “pods.” Immature pods are green and in some varieties have some reddish color.

Pods are brown and dry at maturity and contain 15–20 seeds. Seeds are large with three papery wings. Seed hulls are generally brown to black, but can be white if kernels are of low viability. Viable seeds germinate within 2 weeks. The tree produces a tuberous tap root which helps explain its observed tolerance to drought conditions.

Ecological requirements

Climate

Moringa is widely adapted to the tropics and subtropics. Optimum leaf and pod production requires high average daily temperatures of 25–30°C (77–86°F), well distributed annual rainfall of 1000–2000 mm (40–80 in), high solar ra­diation and well-drained soils. Growth slows significantly under temperatures below 20°C (68°F). Minimum annual rainfall requirements are estimated at 250 mm with maximum at over 3,000 mm, but in waterlogged soil the roots have a tendency to rot. It can be found from 30º north to 20º south and it grows best at altitudes up to 600 m but it will grow at altitudes of 2000 m. It is usually found in areas with a temperature range of 25°C to 40°C but will tolerate 48°C and light frosts. Moringa is relatively tolerant of drought and poor soils, and responds well to irrigation and fertilization.

Soils

Moringa  tolerates a wide range of soil types and pH (4.5–9), but prefers well-drained soils in the neutral pH range. It can grow well in heavy (clay) soils provided that they do not be­come saturated for prolonged periods of time. Light (sandy) soils are preferred for rooting branch cuttings directly in the ground. It can be established in slightly alkaline soils up to pH 9. In areas with heavy rainfall, trees can be planted on small hills to encourage water run-off). Presence of a long taproot makes it resistant to periods of drought.

Biophysical limits

  Elevation range   lower: sea level upper: about 1,500 m (4,921 ft).
  Mean annual rainfall   lower: 250 mm (10 in) upper: 4,000 mm (160 in).
  Rainfall pattern   Moringa is adapted to monsoon rainfall patterns.
  Dry season duration   Well-established trees can tolerate long periods of drought, but leaf production suffers.
  Mean annual temperature   lower: 15°C (68°F) upper: 30°C (86°F).

  Min/Max temperature tolerated

  Succulent growth is frost sensitive and established trees can survive low temperatures of 0°C (32°F) for short periods with the loss of new growth. Can tolerate 48°C.