Author Topic: Grevillea as a sugar crop  (Read 141 times)

S.Simonsen

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Grevillea as a sugar crop
« on: 2020-09-06, 05:43:38 AM »
This is probably a long shot, but I thought I would float my idea of starting a Grevillea breeding project. They are a large genus of mostly shrubs found all over Australia. The flowers are commonly a source of such abundant nectar that the native aboriginals used them as a food source (often laden flowers were dipped in a vessel of water until it was very sweet).

Currently I am assessing which species and ornamental hybrids might be useful to add to the foundation population. G. banksii from a similar region to me looks promising (it is the parent of a lot of the large flowered ornamentals that are common here like Robyn Gordon). G. pteridifolia is a bit more tropical and taller but also produces lots of nectar. Only G. robusta grows naturally where I am, but is a towering tree so not ideal but maybe a source for adaptation to wetter coastal conditions. The genus is pretty big (360 species or so) and they appear to be broadly interfertile, and the flowers are huge so hand pollinating is straight forward. Shrubs mature from seed in a couple of years usually.

Done well I imagine it could be a low tech alternative crop to sugar cane. Yields might be lower but you don't have to crush the juice out of all that biomass. The plant can also keep photosynthesising and flowering, unlike sugar cane that needs to regrow. I have eaten Grevillea nectar before and it is very pleasant.

Ocimum

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Re: Grevillea as a sugar crop
« Reply #1 on: 2020-09-06, 06:31:17 AM »
How do you imagine the harvest, with bees?

Diane Whitehead

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Re: Grevillea as a sugar crop
« Reply #2 on: 2020-09-06, 09:44:24 AM »
Around here, you would have hummingbirds as competitors.  Grevilleas are one of the few nectar-bearers that bloom all winter, so they are a good food supply for the hummers.

Do you have similar birds where you live?
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
cool mediterranean climate  warm dry summers, mild wet winters,  70 cm rain,   sandy soil

S.Simonsen

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Re: Grevillea as a sugar crop
« Reply #3 on: 2020-09-06, 02:30:58 PM »
Harvest by the aborigines was done by shaking whole flowers in a vessel, or dipping them into a container of water to wash the nectar out, repeating the process until the desired sweetness was achieved. Seems just as efficient as crushing a whole plant to a pulp, squeezing out the juice, then boiling it down for hours.

We have lots of parrots and other nectar feeding birds here, but they don't seem able to keep up with the nectar flow from Grevilleas. I would commonly walk under a bush and get drenched in nectar even with birds around. Scale probably matters, so a huge planting will outproduce the local birds, plus timing since nectar often accumulates overnight but the birds aren't active until mid morning.

Diane Whitehead

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Re: Grevillea as a sugar crop
« Reply #4 on: 2020-09-06, 03:18:57 PM »
Poor trees!  Offering nectar so they can be pollinated, but instead it gets stolen.

Do the flowers all bloom together, like our temperate fruit trees, so that you could have one big harvest?

The grevilleas that grow here spread their flowering out over half the year I think (I'll pay attention this year), so they produce enough nectar for a tiny bird, but would be useless for humans to harvest.
« Last Edit: 2020-09-06, 03:36:43 PM by Diane Whitehead »
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
cool mediterranean climate  warm dry summers, mild wet winters,  70 cm rain,   sandy soil