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New Crops News, Spring 1993, vol. 3 no. 1
New Ornamental Basils
Basils (Ocimum spp.) are very rich in a wide range of chemical
constituents, many of which have industrial value. Besides commercial use by
the perfume, pharmacy, and food industries for its natural aroma, basil is more
commonly familiar in the U.S. as a potherb, grown for its flavor and delicacy
as a spice, and its beauty and fragrance as an ornamental. In addition to
unique types that are rich in specific chemical constituents, many new forms
and aromas have been discovered that may have consumer appeal as ornamental
herbs. One type includes a new form of lemon basil. Presently, basils which
exhibit a lemon aroma and are commercially available are very short, flowering
early in the summer, have small and narrow leaves, and contain a low
concentration of essential oil and a low relative percent of citral in the oil.
(Citral is comprised of neral and geranial, chemicals that jointly cause that
lemon aroma.) In 1989, Jim Simon, Mario Morales, Ernie Cebert, and
Denys Charles, of the New Crops Center, identified a single robust, tall basil
plant with an intense, fragrant lemon aroma. The plant, distinguished by a
distinct upright growth habit with larger leaves, appeared in one of the large
intermated breeding populations. This plant was cloned and served as the
parent to develop a new ornamental lemon basil.
After two cycles of selfing and selection, five uniform lines of lemon basil
were identified with desirable aromatic, horticultural, and ornamental
characteristics. Plants exhibited a strong, pleasant lemon aroma and, compared
to commercially available lemon basil varieties, had a larger leaf size
(similar to sweet basil genotypes) and taller stature.
Both available lemon basil varieties and the new lemon basils described here
have attractive white flowers which continue to bloom as the plants continue to
grow until frost. Each line has a distinct lemon fragrance (citral content
<65% in 1991). Each of these lines is highly aromatic (essential oil
contents of 0.55 to 0.75% oil/g dry weight in 1990). Each of these lines
appears highly vigorous with plants reaching heights of 58 to 65 cm (1991).
Lines 75, 77, and 47 appear to be more aromatic, vigorous, and uniform than the
original plant that was used as a check and their sister lines (78 and 48).
This new lemon basil has generated much interest and will soon be released and
available to the commercial herb industry.