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linum usitatissimum L.
Plantae; Spermatophyta, Angiospermae - Flowering Plants; Dicotyledonae; Rosiflorae / Rosidae; Geraniales; Linaceae - Flax Family
Description of the substance
Seed flax is an annual plant that grows to a height of 12 to 36 inches. It has a distinct main stem with numerous branches at the top which produce flowers. Branches from the base of the plant may also occur depending on variety, stand, and environment. The plant has a branched taproot system which may extend to a depth of 3 to 4 feet in coarse textured soil. Spring-sown varieties of the North Central region are less cold tolerant, exhibit less basal branching, and grow more upright in the seedling stage than fall-sown varieties of Texas and southern California.
The flax flower has five petals and a five-celled boll or capsule, which may contain up to 10 seeds when filled. Under most conditions an average of six to eight seeds per boll is normal. Some varieties produce bolls that tend to split open from the apex in varying degrees, whereas other varieties have bolls that remain tightly closed. Varieties with tight bolls suffer less weather damage to ripe seeds and resist shattering better than varieties with split bolls. Most current commercial seed flax varieties have semitight bolls.
Flax is normally self-pollinated, but insects cause some natural crossing. Frequency of cross pollination seems to be associated with varietal differences and environmental conditions. Individual flowers open in the first few hours after sunrise on clear, warm days, and the petals usually fall before noon. Most commercial varieties have blue petals. Petals may also be white or different shades of purple, blue or pink. The seeds may be various shades of yellow, brown, greenish-yellow, greenish-brown, or nearly black. Seed color of most commercial varieties is light brown.
Flax is an excellent companion crop to help establish small seeded grasses and legumes. Plant characteristics that favor its use as a companion crop are (1) limited leaf area and short stature which allow much light to reach the forage seedlings, (2) early maturity, and (3) less extensive root system than many crops which reduces competition for soil moisture.
Flax in Wisconsin and Minnesota is a spring annual with a 90 to 110 day growing season. The typical life cycle consists of a 45 to 60 day vegetative period, followed by a 15 to 25 day tlowering period, and 30 to 40 day maturation period. Proper harvest time is important in flax production. Early harvest reduces yield while late harvest can change the chemical make-up of the oil and thus its quality and value.
The concentration of flax acreage in the North Central states is in part due to the large acreage of fertile land suitable for flax and a lack of other competing crops with more favorable economic returns. The North Central area also has moderate summer temperatures and rainfall which is sufficient but not excessive for good flaxseed yields. Flax yields tend to decrease as precipitation diminishes. Annual rainfall ranges from 30 inches in parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota to 15 inches in eastern Montana. More important than total rainfall is the amount of precipitation that falls during the growing period. Adequate moisture and relatively cool temperatures, particularly during the period from flowering to maturity, seem to favor both high oil content and high oil quality.
Flax is best adapted to fertile, fine textured, clay soils. It should not be grown on very coarse textured, sandy soils. Flax on peat or muck soils will be disappointing unless problems related to drainage, fertility, and weed control are solved.
Diseases and their Control:
Rust is a fungus disease which first appears as yellow orange pustules on the leaves and stems. The spore masses are darker color in later stages. Good fall plowing that buries straw and stubble aids in controlling the disease, but the most efficient control for rust is the use of resistant varieties.
Pasmo is a fungus disease characterized by yellowgreen to brownish spots on the leaves, stems, and bolls. Infected leaves die and drop off. Infected stems appear as alternate green and brown areas giving a blotchy appearance. Gencrally the disease becomes more severe as the crop approaches maturity. The fungus is carried overwinter on flax plant debris. This disease has been observed on flax in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Wilt is a soil-borne fungus disease. It is most serious where flax is not rotated with other crops. Recommended varieties are highly resistant to this disease.
Seedling Blight diseases attack the germinating seed. Losses are most severe in extremely cold, wet growing conditions. The fungi may enter the seed through cracks in the seed coat. Seed treatment will help to prevent losses.
Aster Yellows and Crinkle are both virus diseases which are transmitted by certain insect vectors. These diseases may be present to a limited extent each season; however, losses are usually light.
Insects and Other Predators and their Control:
Flax may be infested from time of emergence to maturity by various insect pests. To keep damage low, examinc fields regularly for pests and use control measures promptly.
Cutworms damage the seedlings by cutting off the plants at or near the soil surface. Severe damage may be done in 1 or 2 days when the plants are young.
Wireworms, although often serious pests of cereal grains in the seedling stage, seldom damage flax.
Aphids sometimes become so abundant on flax in midsummer that all the plants in a field may be covered with them. These infestations normally cause little damage.
The aster leafhopper and the tarnished plant bug, like aphids, feed by sucking juices from the flax plants. The leafhopper can carry the mycoplasm that causes aster yellows and infect the plants with this disease while feeding. Tarnished plant bugs damage flax by feeding on the growing tips, which become distorted and die back. The damage from these insects is most serious on late-seeded crops.
Grasshoppers may be a hazard to flax, especially before harvest. If flying adults invade a field, they can quickly cause large numbers of bolls to drop to the ground by chewing through the succulent portions of the small stems below the bolls. In the spring young hoppers may also damage seedling flax.
The beet webworm, a slim, lively, dark green caterpillar, may eat leaves, flowers, and patches of bark from flax stems and branches. When abundant, usually in July and August, the larvae migrate in large armies.