the genus Erythroxylum, cocaine-rich leaves are obtained from
var.coca (Bolivian or Huanuco coca) - well adapted to the
eastern Andes of Peru and Bolivia, an area of humid, tropical,
var.ipadu (Amazonian coca) - cultivated in the lowland Amazonian
var.novogranatense (Colombian coca) - a highland variety that
is utilized in lowland areas. It is cultivated in drier regions
in South America. However, E.novogranatense is very adaptable
to varying ecological conditions. The leaves have parallel
lines on either side of the central vein.
var.truxillense (Trujillo coca) - the leaves of E.novogranatense
var.truxillense does not have parallel lines on either side
of the central vein like all other varieties.
coca var.coca is considered the ancestor, while E.novogranatense
var.truxillense is derived from it, and E.novogranatense var.
novogranatense derived from E.novogranatense var. truxillense.
Wild populations of E.coca var.coca are found in the eastern
Andes, but the other 3 taxa are only known as cultivated plants.
E.novogranatense var.novogranatense is native to Colombia and
Venezuela, but its adaptability and easy propagation has led
to a wide distribution over the Old and New World tropics. It
was introduced in the Bogor Botanical Garden (West Java, Indonesia)
in 1875, and by 1888 large quantities of seed were already being
distributed in South-East Asia. It has been grown in Peninsular
Malaysia, western and eastern Java (Indonesia), northern Borneo
(Indonesia), northern Sulawesi (Indonesia) and the Philippines
(Luzon). E. novogranatense var. truxillense is grown in arid
areas in northern Peru. Neither of these 2 varieties is known
from wild populations.
In an extensive study, the cocaine content in leaves of E.coca
var.coca (30 samples) was found to range from 0.23-0.96%, with
a mean of 0.63%, while the cocaine content in E.coca var.ipadu
(6 samples) was lower: 0.11-0.41%, with an average of 0.25%.
E.novogranatense var.novogranatense (3 samples) contained 0.55-0.93%
cocaine, with an average of 0.77% and E.novogranatense var.
truxillense (14 samples) 0.42-1.02%, with a mean of 0.72%.
E.novogranatense is a highland variety that is utilized in
lowland areas. It is cultivated in drier regions in South America.
However, E.novogranatense is very adaptable to varying ecological
conditions, and grows well in both humid and dry areas, and
at low and higher altitudes. In Java (Indonesia), E.novogranatense
has been cultivated from sea-level to 1000 m altitude, with
best results at 400-600 m. In controlled environment studies,
the optimum average daily temperature for leave growth for E.novogranatense
var.novogranatense was found to be around 27 C (80.6 F), whereas
leaf growth was generally higher at photosynthetic photon flux
densities (PPFD) of 250 or 400 micromol per meter square per
second than at 155 micromol per meter square per second. Environmental
effects on the cocaine concentration in the leaves were smaller,
so that total cocaine production per plant was largely a function
of leaf mass, with environmental conditions that stimulated
leaf growth giving higher cocaine yields. Both species grow
on soils with low pH, and a greenhouse study has shown that
the optimum pH for biomass accumulation of E.novogranatense
is between 4.7 - 6.0.
var.novogranatense, E.novogranatense var.truxillense and E.coca
var.coca have to be reproduced by seed, because vegetative propagation
is difficult. However, E.coca var.ipadu does not produce seed
and is produced by stem cuttings. It cannot reproduce without
human interference. Cultivated E.novogranatense var.novogranatense
produces abundant seed and is easy to propagate. Seed viability
decreases rapidly. Germination percentages of E.coca and E.novogranatense
seed were found to decrease from around 95% and 89% directly
after harvesting to 29% and 0%, respectively, after 24 days
of storage at 4 C (39 F). Coca seedlings are usually sown in
shaded nurseries and transplanted to the field when they are
about one year old and 20-25 cm tall. In the field, they are
planted at a spacing of 1-2 m. The actual time of transplanting
and the spacing of the plants varies with climatic factors and
whether coca is interplanted or cultivated as a sole corp.
Another interesting point is the South American coca farmers
when collecting their seeds, pour them into a container of water
and the seeds that float are discarded as they are non viable,
another fact is that seeds collected from a plant grown by cutting,
ie clonal propagation are not viable as they possess no embryo.
Most South American coca farmers use this method as it results
in earlier harvesting, and as a consequence the chance of obtaining
viable seeds from Peru etc is becoming very difficult.
The basic physical difference between E.coca and E.novogranatense
is that the E.coca (sometimes called E.bolivianum) has larger
leaves that are elliptical, oval and broader above the middle.
The E.novogranatense has smaller, narrower leaves and is broadest
in the middle making a more regular oval shape (See the illustration).
To identify E. novogranatense var. novogranatense from E.novogranatense
var.truxillense: The leaves of E.novogranatense var.truxillense
does not possess parallel lines either side of the central vein
like all other varieties.
The first harvest of coca takes place at 1-3 years after transplanting.
In the Island of Java (Indonesia), a first harvest can be expected
within a year after transplanting. The leaves have to be stiff
and easily detachable to be harvested. Leaves can be harvested
every 50-60 days in the rainy season, but when it is drier,
they are usually harvested every 3-4 months. The leaves should
be pinched from the plant, not ripped off.
Guide for Growing Java Coca (E.novogranatense)
Coca seeds should be planted as soon as they fall from the bush. If
they dry out, they will die right away. The only way to keep them for a
maximum of about 4 weeks, is to keep them in moist (not wet) sphagnum
in a cool place. Under no circumstances should they be kept dry, since
even room humidity is too dry.
plantations, the seeds are generally germinated by keeping them in a
heap three or four inches deep and saturated with water until they
germinate. The sprouts are picked apart very carefully and planted in
the soil. However, based on my experience, it is not as effective as
the zip-lock bag method. I have been using this method for 5 years with
better results. By using the zip-lock bag method of germination,
consistent moisture is assured, insect larva and slugs are kept away
from germinating seeds.
ZIP-LOCK BAG GERMINATION METHOD: Use sphagnum moss or coarse peat moss.
Get it wet and squeeze out most of the water. Put a couple of
handsfull of this damp peat moss into a clear plastic zip-lock
bag and add 10 to 20 seeds. Hang these clear bags up in a window
preferably where there is morning light and inspect daily to
be certain that no mold is growing. If germinating outdoors,
do not allow bags to remain in direct sunlight where heat inside
the bags can reach more than 85 or 90 degrees F. If the sphagnum
or peat moss is badly contaminated with mold or fungus, it is
best to start over with fresh damp moss. The seeds can be dusted
lightly with a powdered fungicide if the problem persists. This
problem can be an indication that the sphagnum moss is too wet.
It should be squeezed until hardly any water drips from it.
When the seeds begin to sprout, which might be anytime between 2-4 weeks, they
are ready to be put into regular nursery flats or pots. Use
styrofoam cups or small plastic pots, 5 cm diameter, with holes
in the bottom. Pots should be raised so as not to saturate the
medium. Coca, whether as a seedling or a mature plant, never
likes to have wet feet. It is better to start them in small
pots rather than flats, so there is less damage to the root
system when they are transplanted. Forget the hot pad -- it
is completely unnecessary.
Seeds should be planted no deeper than 1 cm below the surface
of the soil - with the soil loosely packed around them. There
is no special soil needed, other than an adequate supply of
humus and sufficient sand/clay to stabilise the soil without
loss of permeability. You can use common seeding mix (starter
mix) available at your local garden store. A good example of
seeding mix is one that contains peat moss, perlite and vermiculite.
This uniform mixture doesn't compact and also provides for the
proper balance of air and moisture necessary for fast root development.
Perlite and vermiculite have been used for years to amend professional
potting medium made from peat moss. Essentially perlite and
vermiculite are used in the horticultural industry because they
both provide aeration and drainage, they can retain and hold
substantial amounts of water and later release it as needed,
they are sterile and free from diseases, and they are non-toxic,
safe to use, and relatively inexpensive. Remember that coca
plant will grow best in a medium having low pH (slightly acidic).
The optimum soil pH for growing coca is between 4.7 to 6.0.
To insure maximum success with each seed, proper placement in the
soil or propagating medium can be important. The sprout (the tail)
would be underneath (downward) with the seed (the head) pointing
slightly up, at about a 45 degrees angle. This will allow the newly
formed sprout to raise toward the surface of the soil or quickly
without having to bend and face the possibility of breaking itself. It
will also give the sprout the shortest possible distance to travel to
the surface of the soil, allowing the process of photosynthesis to
begin as soon as possible.
At this early stage it is advised to keep some kind of plastic cover
over the seedling container to keep out pests and to keep humidity in.
A better idea is to place your germination pots in a terrarium with a
coarse gravel layer on the bottom. Do not seal over and allow plenty of
ventilation. If possible, place a Growlux fluorescent fixture, with two
40 W bulbs over the terrarium. When the second set of leaves appear it
is no longer necessary to keep the containers covered. Keep the
seedlings at a slightly warm temperatures: 20C - 30C (69F - 85F).
During the first six months of their life the little coca plants are
very susceptable to rots and moulds, and any part or plant thus
afflicted should be removed immediately. A common problem at this state
is etiolation (too little light) which makes the plantlets weak and
very susceptible to damping off, a fungus attack of the tender stems.
Feeding at this time is recommended in order to grow the plants out of
this vulnerable period as quickly as possible. They are heavy feeders
and every three weeks or more often is not too often to fertilize. The
all-purpose plant foods available at nurseries and garden centers will
work fine. Just to name a few brand names: Schultz, Miracle-Gro,
Peters, etc. Follow the label and do not be tempted to change the
formula to make it stronger. A slightly weeker solution (more water)
would be recommended.
When plants are older it is important to give them iron in the form
of iron chelate, available as a red powder sold as KEELATE on the West
Coast of the USA. A yellow powder, not as good, is sold as SEQUESTRENE.
This element should be added about every six months, but strictly
according to instructions. Soil must be flushed three times after
applying the dissolved iron compound to avoid burning roots. Most
yellowed or bleached out leaves are caused by iron deficiency, but this
also occurs when plants go deciduous. Periodically, the whole coca bush
turns yellow and drops its leaves, every one. Most people freak out
when this happens, but if it is otherwise a healthy, vigorous plant,
then this is normal. After dropping, new flushes soon appear to renew
the foliage. This is more likely to happen with E. coca than with E.
Lighting: warm, sunny exposure indoors. Full sun (through
a window) will not hurt plantlets over 7.5 cm (3 inches) tall.
But if plants are to be put outdoors in the summer, they should
be at least 1 m (3 feet) tall. Put them in a shady place first,
and gradually buildup the exposure of the plantlets to sunlight,
at the rate of one hour the first day, two hours the second,
and so forth until the plants are accustomed to the full daylight
cycle in which they will be living.
The best type of lighting for the germinating and seeding stages,
are the flourescent lighting fixtures, the 250W or the 400W. When using
the 250's or 400's in the seeding stage, keep the lights far back from
the seedlings until your confident they have ajusted to the lighting.
If you use artificial light, I recommend using GRO-LUX STANDARD lamp
for propagation and seedlings.
When the plant is ready for transplanting, gradually increase the amount of
light by exposing your grown-up plant under direct sunlight,
or if it's not available, I recommend using GRO-LUX WIDE SPECTRUM
LAMP for general growing and blooming (available in 15W, 20W
Coca plants can be grown entirely under growlights, or a combination
of growlights and window light. Most apartments are not sunny
enough for strong growth, so especially in winter, give the
plants accessory light. Growlux Widespectrum Tubes seem to work
well. I know someone who uses one Growlux and one regular Sylvania
Lifeline tube in each fixture with a good result. Those lamps
are suspended 15 cm (6 inches) to 30 cm (one foot) above larger
plants. However, this is not the only possibility of lighting
system that works well. You may want to know other grower's
experiences on lighting.
Watering: most city water, is unsuitable for coca. They are calciphobes
and don't like heavy salts in the water. Best to use rainwater,
melted snow, bottled spring water or distilled water if they
are available. Plants should only be watered if the soil dries
out. Stick your finger in the soil. If it feels moist, don't
Transplanting: It depends on the size of the plant and how fast it is
growing. If you think your plant needs transplanting, look at
the holes in the bottom of the pot to see if any roots are present.
If so, then the roots have probably filled the pot and it is
time. You can also carefully de-pot the plant by tapping upside
down on a table edge. Repotting is probably unnecessary unless
the roots have encircled the inner periphery of the pot. Again,
the size of the pot should be increased gradually for best growth.
Avoid Sudden/Extreme Changes: Coca does not like extremes
of any kind. 50° F is the lowest permissible temperature, 90°
F being the highest. Sudden temperature changes are especially
damaging. The most important thing in tending young plants is
to keep the temperature even and constant, day and night, around
64° F. They can stand slightly higher or lower temperatures
but they can't stand shifting temperatures. Likewise, sudden
changes in air humidity or soil moisture. Erythroxylum novogranatense
tolerates extremes, especially droughts, better than Erythroxylum
coca, which is a much more delicate plant.
In handling the young plants, no matter how tall or short they are,
always be careful not to touch the young plants or to touch them as
little as possible, particularly on the roots and on the tips of the
stems. The tips of the stems are where the shoots come from that allow
the plant to grow, and even when the plant is mature, never touch the
end of the stems and never remove the leaves that cling precariously to
the end of the stem.
Going Deciduous: Don't freak out when the plants go
deciduous, usually about a year or a year and a half from sprouting.
They drop almost all their leaves except the ones at the tip
of the stems, turn yellow and mottled, and you think they're
dying. They're not -- in fact, they're growing! Within a few
days, little spike-shaped green sprouts will appear, and tiny,
usually white, flowers. After a few years, the flowers will
start producing little seedpods, roundish oval shaped green
pods that the flower may still cling to. These then dry and
turn slowly red on the plant, reaching a bright red like a cherry-colored
coffee fruit, which contains the albumin and nourishment for
the tiny seed in the center. Usually the shrubs will go through
the leaf-fall several times, about once every 2 or 3 months,
before the seedpods appear. Don't expect seeds until the plant
is 3 to 5 years old.
Once the plants get to be above a foot, they are pretty well
established. After that first scary leaf-dropping, you will learn to
recognize that process when it happens as described in Note 3 above.
There is a different phenomenon that looks somewhat similar that
happens to plants if they go through a sudden temperature change,
especially if it gets cold suddenly or if they are exposed to cold fog
and winds without much warm sunlight. In this case, the leaves very
quickly become dry and crinkled and, turn deep brown and yellow-brown
mottling, at first on their leaf tips and soon covering the whole leaf.
This means your plant is about to die. The only thing to do is to
lightly spray the leaves with pure (not tap) water and keep the plants
at a constant warm temperature and talk to them and keep careful watch
on them. Don't over-water, but keep the leaves themselves warm and
moist. The plant has a 50% chance for recovery.
Organic Materials: The disadvantage of soilless potting mix is that
unless they have a fertilizer source added, they do not contain
any or have very low concentrations of the essential nutrients
required for plant growth. To improve the nutrient level of
your mixtures, you can add sufficient amount of organic materials
such as compost, manure, humus but REMEMBER: A research has
shown that using 100% organic materials in seedling growing
causes toxicity due to decomposition and ammonification. For
this reason, wait until you see several leaves before adding
any organic materials to your potting mix, never use organic
materials more than 1/3 of the volume of the whole potting mix,
and use only organic materials which are fully mature and stable
(i.e.finished, completely broke down materials).