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Marianne Andresen and Nina Cedergreen

Various plant extracts are being marketed claiming to enhance both crop yield and quality and being environmentally friendly. However, these claims are rarely documented by scientific data. In this study, we investigate the growth regulatory effect of Tea Seed Powder (TSP), a saponin-rich waste product from tea seed (Camellia sp.) oil production. The product was tested in various concentrations on Lemna growth and as a soil and spray application on growth of pot grown beet, mustard, oat, and barley. Finally, two treatments, 0.2 g TSP/L dry soil and weekly sprays with TSP solutions corresponding to 1.5 g TSP/m2, were tested for effects on strawberry yield. The results showed significant growth-enhancing effects on the sterile Lemna of ≈20% above control, demonstrating that the growth increase was a plant physiological response to TSP rather than an indirect effect of TSP affecting pests and diseases or improving nutrient uptake. Soil-treated, pot-grown beet, oat, and barley plants showed significant biomass increases in the range of 27% to 41% above control at concentrations of ≈0.3 g TSP/L dry soil, whereas increases of 14% to 26% were observed in plants sprayed with 0.15 to 1.5 g TSP/m2. Sprayed strawberries had a 38% higher berry yield compared with control plants in 2008, whereas no difference in leaf number and area, number of runners, and inflorescences were detected. In 2009, there were no significant observable differences between sprayed plants and controls. Soil-treated strawberry plants, however, showed a decrease in leaf number in 2008 and in strawberry yield in 2009. The study concludes that TSP has pronounced and direct physiological effects on plants, which can both increase and decrease growth and yield depending on the applied dose. The growth-enhancing effect could be used commercially to improve crop yield; however, because TSP is also known to be very harmful to earthworms, possible environmental effects of the use of TSP in agriculture and horticulture must be considered before use.