Camelina sativa Camelina sativa Camelina sativa Camelina alyssum

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False Flax

Camelina microcarpa

  • Name also: Hairy Falseflax, Hairy False Flax, Littlepod False Flax, Litlepod Falseflax, Camelina
  • Family: Mustard Family – Brassicaceae (Cruciferae)
  • Growing form: Annual (sometimes biennial) herb.
  • Height: 15–40 cm (6–16 in.). Stem abundantly hairy.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), pale yellow, approx. 0.5 cm (0.2 in.) across; petals four, 3.5–4.5 mm (0.14–0.18 in.) long. Sepals 4. Stamens 6, of which 2 short and 4 long. Gynoecium fused, a single carpel. Inflorescence an elongating raceme in fruiting stage.
  • Leaves: Alternate, lower leaves stalked, stem leaves stalkless, amplexicaul. Blade with sagittate base.
  • Fruit: Many-seeded, pear-shaped (pyriform), slightly oval, already hard-shelled when young, 4–6 mm (0.16–0.24 in.) long silicula, terminated by an approx. 2–3 mm (0.08–0.12 in.) long bristle. Stalk ascending oblique.
  • Habitat: Railways, mills, harbours, rubbish tips, wasteland, sometimes lawns.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

Genus Camelina plants grew on the untouched steppes of south-east Europe and south-west Asia, but only when it befriended man was it able to spread and diversify to the extent that it has today. Camelinas used to be called ‘poor flax’ in Finnish, which is also a direct translation of its scientific name: it resembles flax in its way of growing and its leaves, although they are not related. False flax was also cultivated earlier in Russia for its oil, which was both for human consumption and fuel for lamps. Different forms of cultivated flax later marginalized camelina as a cultivated plant, but some remained in the flax field, and some as weeds among different cereal crops. Camelinas are wonderful examples of plants that have developed from their original form through natural selection – with positive help from people – and created a large group of new forms. Four different forms of camelina grow in Finland, and each has adapted to different cultivated plants and their processing methods. They have been classified as four different species or subspecies of a single species. Apart from littlepod false flax (C. microcarpa), gold-of-pleasure (C. sativa; also known as camelina and wild flax) has become quite common in Finland, although in recent decades it has become quite a rare casual plant. Small-seeded false flax (C. alyssum; also known as flat-seeded false flax) was a flax-field weed which has disappeared from Finland along with the decrease in cultivated flax.

Agricultural changes have hit camelina plants hard. The biggest changes in farming have been increasing mechanization since the 1950s, large-scale use of underwater pipes to drain fields since the 1960s and an increase in chemical pesticides since the same time. The amount of species that grew in fields as weeds changed and primarily decreased. The efficient, mechanical cleaning of seed grain, which camelinas had overwintered with in storage, was the final nail in their coffin. Most camelinas and other special weeds that can be found in Finland have arrived mixed in with Russian seed grain. Nowadays camelinas grow as rare casual plants in busy loading areas and dumps.

Camelina distribution maps (Kasviatlas, University of Helsinki)

Other species from the same family

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