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safflower cultivation

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All about safflower cultivation

Cultivation of safflower plant

safflower cultivation : Safflowers[1] are among the oldest plants known to mankind. The people of Babylon, Palestine, and ancient Egypt knew of this plant and used it as a medicinal and oil plant. This plant is presented in several pharmacopeias as an important medicinal plant and its properties were introduced.

  • The flowers[2] and oil[3] of this plant contain active ingredients.
  • The flowers of this plant are used as a laxative and expectorant in tea mixtures, and its unsaturated seed oil is also used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis. In some countries, safflower is even cultivated just for its oil usage.
  • The dyes of safflower flowers are used to color food as additives, medicines and beverages, and to dye cloth and silk. This plant is also used in the health and cosmetic industries.
  • Since saffron stigma[4] is expensive, safflower flower is also used to make fake saffron in some countries (3).
  • Poultry can be fed safflower seed meal.
  • Safflower is grown every year on large acreages in Mexico, the United States, Italy, Spain, and Egypt.
Plant characteristics
  • Safflower is an annual plant that grows as a vigorous shrub. Some believe that this plant originated in Africa, while others claim that Asia Minor and the East Indies are the origins of safflower. They state that this plant was first domesticated in the East Indies (18).
  • Safflower has straight, conical roots. The roots are 25 to 30 cm long and with many branches that penetrate deeply into the field and absorb soil moisture and nutrients.
  • The outer layer of these deep and branched roots is white.
  • The stem is a straight and pale yellow, the upper part being branched. The height of this plant varies under different climatic conditions and ranges from 140 to 170 cm ( Fig 5-10).
  • The leaves are almost oval, without petioles and teeth, and light green. In addition, the leaves are between 5 and 10 cm long and alternate on the stem. In some cultivars, the leaves are spiny, in others without spines.
  • Spherical flowers appear at the end of the main and secondary stems, covered with scaly and rough scales. The diameter of the flowers is between 3 and 4 cm. These flowers are hermaphroditic (male-female) and tubular. They first turn orange and after a while dark red.
  • The fruit (seed) is achene, very similar in shape to the small sunflower seed. The fruit is 5 to 8 mm long and is white or gray. Also. The 1000-grain weight can be 35 to 45 gr.
  • The florets of safflower contain pigments called yellow saffron[5] (24 to 30%) and red saffron[6], or cartamine[7] (0.3 to 0.6%). Yellow saffron (C24H30O15) is highly soluble in water and alcohol. On the other hand, cartamine with the chemical formula C21H22O11 is not soluble in water and alcohol but is highly soluble in fat. The oil content of the seeds is 20 to 40% (60 to 70% of which is linoleic acid and palmitic acid) and the protein content is reported to be 20 to 25%. The growing season of safflower varies according to climatic conditions and ranges from 140 to 160 days. Safflower grows rapidly. In Iran, the first flowers appear in early summer (early July) and remain for 35 to 40 days. The fruits ripen gradually and unevenly, and the seeds are scattered by the wind when they are ripe. The seeds have a desirable life span of 4 to 5 years.



Ecological needs

Safflower is a long-day plant that requires warm air and good light to grow. The seeds usually germinate between 8 and 10 °C. However, the optimum temperature for germination is 18 to 20 °C. This plant is sensitive to prolonged and severe frost, so at -2 °C the leaves freeze and the plant dry out, while at temperatures near zero it survives with slow growth. In such a situation, it grows only vegetatively, meaning that it produces only new stems and branches.

The roots of safflower are deep and well developed, which makes it easy for them to absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil. Consequently, they can cope with periods of drought for a while.

Ideally, this plant should be grown in areas with warm climates and soils with a high soil thickness. While safflower can grow in all soil types, it prefers deep soils with a medium texture. Safflower is not suitable for nutrient-poor soils or soils that retain water.

Crop rotation

Nutrient-rich soil is required to grow this plant. Safflower can be grown alternately with any other crop. Potassium is a major component of safflower’s active ingredient, so it is best to avoid growing it in rotation with plants that reduce the potassium content of the soil.

Safflower can be grown in the same field for two years. In the third and fourth years, they must be grown alternately with suitable crops such as carrots and clover. The field should be left fallow for one year and then planted with safflower.

Nutrients needed

The nutrients of the soil are effectively used by safflower during growth. To produce 100 kg of seeds, the plants take up 3 kg of nitrogen, 1.2 kg of phosphorus oxide, and 1.5 kg of potassium oxide from the soil. Soils devoid of nutrients must therefore be fertilized with chemical or animal fertilizers.

When preparing the soil for safflower planting in the fall, it is helpful to add 35 to 40 kg.ha-1 of nitrogen, 40 to 60 kg.ha-1 of phosphorus, and 50 to 70 kg.ha-1 of potassium oxide to the soil. Safflower grows very well in potassium-rich soils and the presence of potassium increases the number of active ingredients in the plant (10).

Nitrogen-free soils should be enriched with 20 to 25 kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare before planting.

Preparation of the soil

In early autumn, after the previous crop has been harvested, the soil is deeply plowed. After the addition of chemical fertilizers, the disk breaks up the lumps and also removes the weed residue. In late winter, the field is leveled and the soil bed is prepared for cultivation.

Intervals and dates for planting
  • The time of planting depends on the climatic conditions of the place of cultivation. In the tropics, safflower is an autumn plant, while in cold climates it is planted in spring.
  • Ideally, safflower should be planted in the fall in October/November and the spring in early May. The distance between planting rows is 40 to 50 cm, and the distance between two plants in each row is 15 to 20 cm.
  • The sowing depth of safflower varies depending on the planting time and soil texture. In heavy soils, the sowing depth should be 3 to 4 cm, while in light, sandy soils it should be 4 to 6 cm.
  • 18 to 20 kg of good quality seed is required per hectare.
Cultivation Method
  • Safflower is sown in rows using a grain drill. The seeds should not be placed on the soil surface, as they may fall prey to birds after a short time. The newly developed small leaves are also good for birds. Therefore, scarecrows should be placed on the farms to prevent damage by birds to the young plants.
  • A density of 150 to 160 thousand plants per hectare is recommended. High plant density not only negatively affects plant growth and reduces plant production but also creates a perfect environment for fungal diseases.
  • It is important to irrigate the seeds immediately after planting.
Growth and maintenance

Germination occurs after six to eight days under suitable conditions. When the soil hardens after rain and the soil clumps, the space between the rows and the plants should be turned over and broken up. This can be done with a rotary rake or a cultivator. Cultivators should not be buried too deep. Crust-breaking should be done once or twice during plant growth to accelerate soil aeration. Once when plants are small (at the 4 to 5 leaf stage) and another time before row spacing is blocked by foliage. Plants in the cultivation row should be thinned out when their density is high.

A plant grows very fast when the distance between rows is greater than usual (15 to 20 cm), but its reproductive growth is reduced and it produces fewer flowers. This reduces the yield of the plant.

During plant growth, weed control is crucial and depends on weed density and soil type. Therefore, weeds should be pulled out one to four times during plant growth. Weeds can also be controlled with herbicides. Herbicides to be used include Flobalex at a rate of 3.5 to 4.5 liters per hectare and Maloran at a rate of 3 to 3.5 kg per hectare.

Pests and diseases can damage plants as they grow. Pests such as Acathiophilus helianthi[8] can severely damage plants during growth. Their larvae feed on plant leaves and seeds.

To control this pest, it is important to plant at the right time. Primor is one of the most effective toxins against it.

Major diseases of safflower include safflower rust[9], safflower root rot[10], and damping off [11]. Fungal diseases can be largely prevented by good crop rotation, plant spacing (lack of density), and seed disinfection with a suitable pesticide (3, 12).


The flowers contain active ingredients. When the tubular florets are fully open, the active ingredient is at its highest concentration. At this time, the florets are red. The flowering period usually lasts between 1.5 and 2 months. You can harvest the fully ripened flowers every three to four days, as the flowers do not all ripen at once. Flower harvesting is done by hand, no suitable mechanical harvesting equipment has been developed yet. The harvested flowers should be dried quickly. You can spread the flowers thinly in the shade and turn them over every few hours so that they dry evenly. If there is a large volume of flowers, they can be dried with electric dryers. This requires a temperature of 50 to 60 oC. It is important to pack dried flowers in plastic bags or special (moisture-proof) bags, as they absorb moisture.

The yield of fresh flowers is 600 to 700 kg per hectare, of which 120 to 150 kg of dried flowers are produced (2). The ratio of fresh to dried flowers is 4 to 5/1. After the flowers are collected, the fruits (seeds) remain. When three-fourths of the fruits are ripe, they are harvested.

The seeds are separated with a threshing machine after the crop has been harvested in small areas with a scythe. After the seeds are cleaned, a suitable place is chosen to pack and store them.

The thorns around the flowers and leaves make it difficult to harvest the seeds by hand. Therefore, when the cultivation area is large, the seeds are collected by machine. When harvesting seeds, it is important that you do not damage them by rubbing them with other seeds or with parts of the machine, as broken seeds reduce or destroy the germination vigor of the seeds and also reduce the quality of their oil.

Depending on the climatic conditions of the growing area, the seed yield varies between 1.1 and 2.6 tons per hectare.

Safflower plant in general

Safflower is a plant that has long been cultivated in India, Iran, the Middle East, East Africa, and Turkestan not only for its oil but also for its orange color. Since there are so many species (about twenty species) in the Middle East, its origin is referred to be Asia. Safflower seeds are 3500 years old and were found in the pyramids of Egypt. As an oilseed crop, safflower cultivation has greatly increased in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. In Iran, safflower flower extract has been used for dyeing for hundreds of years, but it is less common today due to the availability of artificial colors.

As a herbaceous plant or shrub, safflower belongs to the family Compositae. The flowers are in inflorescences consisting of a large number of florets grouped in a strong receptacle to form a single flower. The flower receptacle is surrounded by leaflets (brackets) that are covered or have a collar, which is firmly attached to the flower and have evolved to provide complete protection from changes in the inflorescence. Each flower of this inflorescence has a smaller leaflet which is hairy. The flowers of safflower are usually tubular or ligulate. There are some safflower species with one or both types of flowers (tubular or ligulate). To attract pollinating bees, ligulate flowers surround the tubular ones. Ligulate flowers are usually regular, long, and narrow with five petals joined together. In the end, they are divided into five parts of different sizes. The stamens are inside the corolla, and the anthers are joined to form a tube, though the filaments are usually separate. The pollen grains are shed into the anthers through terminal holes or internal slits. The ovary of the safflower is one cavity formed by the union of two cavities. It is subequal and contains one ovule. Safflower has a long style, which divides at the end into two parts of the stigma and emerges from the middle of the anther tube. The anthers release their pollen before ovaries are ripe and ready for fertilization. This phenomenon is referred to as Protandrous flowers, meaning that the male organ matures earlier than the female organs. The irregular ripening of the sexual organs thus makes indirect pollination by insects possible. A calyx is a leaf or hair that appears around the edge of the ovary and the flower. Pappus or parachute hairs are typically permanent and occur on plants that belong to the composite family. The safflower fruit is an achene (naked seed) known as safflower seed.

The lingual flowers of this family are irregular, and there are five, united into one tube. The tube eventually becomes a long, narrow structure, often colored, projecting from the inflorescence. These flowers are often infertile or have no male organs and develop only as inflorescence-absorbing organs. In other words, they play no role in reproduction. The inflorescence of the safflower is called capitulum inflorescence.

Safflower is an annual herbaceous plant with many branches. Its height varies from 30 to 150 cm. This plant has erect, straight, and thick roots that penetrate the soil up to more than 2 m. Safflower forms many delicate, horizontal, and lateral roots on the soil surface. At the beginning of its development, this plant forms large, complex leaves at the base, which soon develop into several right branches. These branches then form further sub-stems. Therefore, at this stage, the safflower’s many branches can be produced from the base, and it will have a large number of branches at the top. The stems of safflower are straight, stiff, and cylindrical. They are relatively thick at the base and become narrower when sub-stems were produced. The stem of this plant is glabrous or hairy and is light gray to white. The stems of safflower are characterized by fine longitudinal grooves. The leaves are arranged spirally on the branched stem. However, the leaves can also be arranged at infinite intervals and reciprocated. The leaves are simple, dark green and shiny, completely without petioles and hairs, and have very short spines on the edges. Safflower leaves have a distinct main petal and other secondary veins branching from the main vein. The leaves are about 2 to 3 cm wide and 10 to 15 centimeters long. The tip of the leaf has sharp teeth that extend along the main vein of the leaf. The leaves at the top of the plant are smaller, straighter, and ovate, while they are quite close together at the end of each branch.

The inflorescence of the safflower is a dense cluster of various flowers surrounded by leaflets. The outer leaflets are relatively free from each other and almost resemble leaves, while the inner leaflets are connected and triangular, at the apex, and covered with soft white hairs. The safflower collar is conical in shape, narrowing at the base towards the end and opening through a very small hole through which the corolla tube protrudes. The inflorescence of the safflower consists of many flowers, all regularly arranged on a broad receptacle. The base of each flower is covered with many silky hairs, which come from the receptacle. The long tube of the corolla forms at the end of the ovary and develops outward through the narrow opening of the collar. In the end, this long floral corolla tube is divided into five almost equal and pointed parts. The tube of the corolla emerging from the collar is yellow to dark orange. The mature inflorescence also has a very splendid appearance.

The staminal tube is cylindrical and pale yellow when mature. It emerges from the corolla and consists of five united anthers, which open from the inside.

The safflower fruit, as already mentioned, is achene, and contains a seed that is white or pale gray, striped, oblong, and rectangular, with an almost pointed tip. The upper end of the seed is nearly square with prominent lines.

Safflower Highlights
  1. Safflower is an annual plant usually grown in early spring.
  2. This plant can be grown in the fall in some temperate and warm regions of the country.
  3. Safflower seeds contain 24 to about 40% oil, 12 to 15% protein, and 5 to 8% moisture.
  4. Safflower oil is high in linoleic acid and low in linolenic acid.
  5. This crop has no dormancy and does not fall like grains.
  6. Safflower oil is now mainly used for industrial purposes and salads.
  7. Safflower meal is also used in livestock and poultry as it contains 20-55% protein.
  8. Safflower has been cultivated in Iran since 1967.
  9. Various mechanized tools can be employed in the cultivation and harvesting of safflower.
  10. In temperate and tropical regions, safflower is cultivated in autumn, and cold regions, in spring.
  11. Due to the high germination vigor of safflower seeds, they can be grown in a variety of soils.
  12. Safflower in its early development as a rosette is particularly cold-resistant.
  13. Safflower can grow in relatively saline and alkaline soils and is relatively tolerant of saline soils.
  14. Safflower has a short growing season of three to four months and is usually harvested in mid-summer.
  15. safflower soil, like summer crops, should be deeply plowed and leveled in the fall, pruned, fertilized, and seeded, and disked and, if necessary, clawed or cut and tooth in the spring.
  16. Safflower is irrigated in a leaked row.
  17. Safflower can be grown in rows with cereal seeders.
  18. A safflower seed should be planted no deeper than 6 cm and no deeper than 4 cm.
  19. Plot cultivation and flood irrigation are common in some parts of the country.
  20. When safflower is grown in rows, the distance between rows should be about 40 cm and plant spacing about 4 cm.
  21. About 25 to 35 kg of seed per hectare is sown with a seed drill and about 50 kg by hand.
  22. Safflower cultivation should begin in early December or early March in tropical regions of the country, early December or early April in temperate regions, and from mid-March to late April in cold regions.
  23. Safflower, a deep-rooted plant, should be cultivated after plants with surface roots, such as cereals, maize, prickly maize, sunflower, and clover.
  24. A safflower needs to be weeded and thinned. Therefore, it should be weeded with mechanized weeding equipment and thinned as needed.
  25. Safflower germinates well even in clayey soils and does not need to be crust-broken like other crops.
  26. In some parts of Iran, safflower can be grown both irrigated and rainfed.
  27. Because of its deep roots, safflower requires less water than other crops.
  28. From sowing in spring to harvesting in early summer, four to seven irrigations are required.
  29. Safflower is best grown in arid regions and the Gorgan plains.
  30. Safflower requires more nitrogen fertilizer than others. Therefore, it is better to grow it in rotation with nitrogen-retaining plants, such as clover.
Safflower breed highlights
  1. Safflower is an annual plant and belongs to the composite family.
  2. Sunflower has also perennial species.
  3. Safflower seeds are used in the production of food and industrial oils.
  4. Safflower seeds contain two types of acids, linoleic acid, and oleic acid.
  5. Safflower flowers are compound and appear as bolls at the ends of each stem.
  6. Safflower stems may be integrated, which is controlled by a recessive gene, or they may have a broad form, which can be controlled by a dominant gene.
  7. Safflower has a compound flower and each flower contains several florets (20 to 100).
  8. When several boll flowers are present, castration should be performed.
  9. For castration of safflower flowers, the stamina must be removed by special methods.
  10. The flower color of safflower varies between white, yellow, red, and orange.
  11. The flower color of safflower is related to four genes.
  12. Safflower seeds are white.
  13. Safflower is a self-healing plant in which metamorphosis reaches about 10%.
  14. Safflower is an annual plant, of which there are also perennial types.
  15. The number of chromosomes in annual safflower is 2n = 24.
  16. Research on different varieties of foreign safflower has been carried out at the Faculty of Agriculture in Karaj since 1968.
  17. The proportion of safflower seed oil is between 26-40%.
  18. Oil percentage and seed skin percentage are negatively correlated in safflower.
  19. Male infertility occurs spontaneously in sunflowers.
  20. Breeding for safflower has several objectives, including increasing yield, increasing seed oil content, improving seed oil quality, and resistance to pests and diseases.
  21. Safflower oil contains linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid.
  22. Each of the above fatty acids is present in safflower seeds in varying proportions.
  23. As mentioned earlier, linoleic acid and oleic acid are the most abundant fatty acids in safflower seeds.
  24. Margarine made from safflower oil is widely used today because of its health benefits.
  25. The cultivation of safflower is similar to that of self-pollinating plants.
  26. Breeders should benefit from the process of heterosis resulting from a safflower hybrid.


The area under cultivation, yield, and average yield of safflower in the country
Solar year Area under cultivation (ha) Yield (ton.kg-1) Average yield (kg)
1346 38 41 297
1347 147 58 386
1348 318 206 647
1349 650 537 347
1350 472 198 411
1351 700 473 675
1352 192 110 572
1353 382 92 240
1372 30 46.57

According to various reports, safflower was not considered for cultivation because of its many technical problems, so that its area under cultivation was considerably reduced.


Medicinal-therapeutic properties of safflower
  • Period trigger
  • Antiparasitic
  • Disinfectant
  • Antipyretic
  • Wound healing
  • Treatment of menstrual cramps
  • Treatment of respiratory problems
  • Treatment of constipation
  • Treatment of bronchitis
  • Treatment of arthritis
  • Treatment of whooping cough
  • Treatment of pneumonia


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