CSU horticulture professors recently identified and isolated a natural chemical called catechin that acts as an herbicide.
Catechin is found in spotted knapweed, and is environmentally friendly. Scientists, who speculated that spotted knapweed had the capability to kill surrounding plants, believe that catechin may revolutionize the way homeowners and farmers fight weeds.
“For years, scientists have talked about spotted knapweed releasing this chemical, but they couldn’t find it in the soil because it was almost impossible to separate from all the other compounds that naturally occur in soil,” said Jorge Vivanco, assistant professor of horticultural biotechnology at Colorado State, in a release. “We looked for it in the plant. Spotted knapweed releases catechin into the soil through its roots.”
CSU was able to identify and isolate catechin by growing knapweed roots in vitro in the Department of Horticulture laboratory. Team researchers are investigating the many variations that the chemical can be used. Funding for this study came from CSU’s Invasive Weeds Initiative.
Researchers have found that when sprayed on a plant, catechin can kill plant cells within an hour and can kill the entire plant within a week. They are working with commercial companies to make a spray available to consumers in a year or two. They are still testing how long the chemical stays in the soil, potentially prohibiting plant growth in the treated area.
A promising application of the discovery is the fact that spotted knapweed has such a complex defense mechanism. Spotted knapweed produces and releases chemicals at the slightest hint of a threat. By tapping its leaves automatically activates the plant’s chemical response.
“It is a clever root to produce, secrete and protect itself from this chemical,” Vivanco said, in a release. “There are only small amounts of catechin inside the root at any given time; it secretes it as it produces it.”