In one of the first formal studies of its kind, if not the very first, a team from University of Florida cultivated 68 kratom trees and fertilized them at different rates, then measured for alkaloid content, chlorophyll, and total biomass.
The study, “Effects of Nutrient Fertility on Growth and Alkaloidal Content in Mitragyna speciosa (Kratom)” took place over four months inside of a greenhouse in Apopka, FL, where researchers grew 68 trees from the same mother stock
The researchers divided the trees into four groups based on rate of application of a Scotts 15-9-12 fertilizer — zero, low, medium, and high — and watered twice per day with two liters of water per plant. High amounts of fertilizer increased the biomass of the plants, and therefore the overall alkaloid content, however “Fertility rate had little influence on the concentration of mitragynine, paynantheine, speciociliatine, mitraphylline, and corynoxine per leaf dry mass. 7-Hydroxymitragynine was below the lower limit of quantification in all the analyzed leaf samples” and “mitragynine concentrations were an order of magnitude lower than those reported in commercial kratom products”.
The low level of alkaloid content could have been due to the short period of time the team conducted the study. At only four months, the plants may have been too young to produce the amount of alkaloids present in kratom products on the market. One grower told KratomScience that it takes several years for plants to mature enough to produce alkaloids, and that stressing the plant (picking leaves, low water, etc.) will make it produce more as a defense mechanism to prevent the leaves from being “eaten”.
But that’s essentially the problem. Traditional growers have passed along knowledge about kratom cultivation only by word of mouth in regions where kratom grows wild. Farmers probably selected trees for desirable effects generation after generation.
Should a kratom industry develop outside of its native Southeast Asia, the type of rigorous agricultural science pioneered in this study will be necessary to develop proper strains to grow in greenhouses or climates outside of kratom’s native region. It will likely take years to develop quality leaf material with the level of alkaloids needed to produce desired effects, but studies like this will blaze a trail for the research that needs to be done in the future.
Zhang, M., Sharma, A., León, F., Avery, B., Kjelgren, R., McCurdy, C. R., & Pearson, B. J. (2020). Effects of Nutrient Fertility on Growth and Alkaloidal Content in Mitragyna speciosa (Kratom). Frontiers in plant science, 11, 597696. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2020.597696