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For $10,000- What is the Smallest Flowering Plant on Earth?

June 24, 2014

If you guessed Wolffia, you’d be right!  You’d win big at Jeopardy but sorry, there is no payoff from my blog site. On the bright side, you’d be in an elite but growing circle of duckweed folks “in the know” and now have the potential for looking pretty smart in biology class. Yes, Wolffia is the world’s smallest flowering plant. You’d have to line up 40 of the little green potato-like buggers end-to-end to make an inch. They flower and produce seeds but well… it’s a rare occurence and even I have not gotten to witness the holy event. They reproduce mainly by budding and reproduce like crazy when awash in fresh water containing ample nutrients. Wolffia is the fastest growing plant on the planet, doubling in weight every 24-48 hours, and up to 50% dry weight of the closest thing to animal protein that Nature can offer. Here is a shot of a couple of species that I am currently growing.  Tastes like lettuce, cabbage, and a hint of spinach. Disclaimer:  Even though folks in South Asia eat it routinely, don’t go around eating wild-harvested Wolffia as our immune systems are simply not up to snuff.

The World's Smallest Flowering Plant- Wolffia

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2014 7:39 pm

    Hello, my name is Lucas Altic and I’m an accidental duckweed farmer. I was very interested in this post on Wolffia because I recently found it completely blanketing the surface of two bays of a large concrete biomass-fired boiler scrubber settling ponds at an idled biodiesel plant in SC. I began harvesting it and feeding it to a very interesting “livestock”. Hint: I raise about 100,000 of them in about 3 cubic feet.

    I didn’t know what it was because I had never seen duckweed that small before and it didn’t have a very apparent root system like duckweed does, so your article certainly pointed me in the right direction.

    In any case, it is indeed very prolific. Harvesting is a challenge because it will pass right through a typical pool net.

    I’m wondering if you know why a certain pond will be dominated by one strain over another. Is there a specific nutrient profile that certain duckweed strains prefer over others? My two ponds are certainly mono-cultures with very little “weed” duckweed infiltrating the pond. The Wolffia just seems to dominate there. Any insight you can provide would be much appreciated.

    Like

    • September 4, 2014 8:01 am

      Hi Lucas,
      What a great story. Take some pics as I’d like to do a blog on your growth system and use if you don’t mind. Let me guess- brine shrimp or Artemisia? As for your question, strain dominance fluctuates with the season and water quality in my experience. I’ve learned to roll with Lemna taking over most of the summer and then Wolffia kicking in in the heat of the summer. I can’t give you specific nutrient profiles as every situation is different and each species is acclimated to your specific growth conditions. (A fancy way of saying, monitor as many physical and chemical variables as you can over the course of the growing season and then you’ll get a handle on how your cultures respond.)

      Like

  2. September 3, 2014 7:37 pm

    Hello, my name is Lucas Altic and I’m an accidental duckweed farmer. I was very interested in this post on Wolffia because I recently found it completely blanketing the surface of two bays of a large concrete biomass-fired boiler scrubber settling ponds at an idled biodiesel plant in SC. I began harvesting it and feeding it to a very interesting “livestock”. Hint: I raise about 100,000 of them in about 3 cubic feet.

    I didn’t know what it was because I had never seen duckweed that small before and it didn’t have a very apparent root system like duckweed does, so your article pointed me in the right direction.

    In any case, it is indeed very prolific. Harvesting is a challenge because it will pass right through a typical pool net.

    I’m wondering if you know why a certain pond will be dominated by one strain over another. Is there a specific nutrient profile that certain duckweed strains prefer over others? My two ponds are certainly mono-cultures with very little “weed” lemna infiltrating the pond. The Wolffia just seems to dominate there. Any insight you can provide would be much appreciated.

    Like

  3. Sue permalink
    June 25, 2014 1:51 pm

    Wolffia overwinters well here in W. WA (USDA Zone 7b), as does Lemna, but Lemna doesn’t survive ducks with longer necks than I anticipated. There IS a good reason why they call it ‘duckweed’. If I put a good handful in their small pond, they clean up every single plant.

    But I am disappointed at its slow growth. Any thoughts on whether growth is mostly dependent upon sun, heat or nutrients? We are so cool that we can’t even grow heartworm mosquitoes (not that I’m complaining about that, but…)

    Like

    • June 25, 2014 5:54 pm

      Sue, glad to hear from you! I’d assume you are not trying to grow your duckweed in direct shade all day. Your slow growth could be temperature-related or nutrient-related so think about testing one paremeter at a time.
      How about taking a sample of duckweed and its water source indoors in a sunny south window? See if it grows faster than that of its outdoor kin. If it doesn’t, then perhaps nutrients are the problem. I’m betting on a combo of warmth and ample nutrients to solve your dilemma. If you can’t grow mosquitos, then it IS cold there.

      Like

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