Kratom, the tree
Kratom is the common name for Mitragyna speciosa Korthals, a tree indigenous to Southeast Asia (Thailand, northern Malay Peninsula to Borneo). It is mostly grown in the central and southern regions of Thailand, and only rarely in the north.
The Mitragyna genus, part of the family Rubiaceae, is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia and Africa. Asian Mitragynas are often found in rainforests, while the African species (which are sometimes still classed in a separate genus, Hallea) are often found in swamps. Most species are arborescent, some reaching heights of almost 100 feet (30 meters). The genus was given its name by Korthals because the stigmas in the first species he examined resembled the shape of a bishop’s mitre. This genus is characterized by a globular flowering head, bearing up to 120 florets each. Mitragyna species are used medicinally as well as for their fine timber through the areas they grow. More recently the plant Mitragyna speciosa has also gained popularity as a recreational drug.
Mitragyna speciosa itself reaches heights of 50 feet (15 meters) with a spread of over 15 feet (4,5 meters). The stem is erect and branching. Flowers are yellow. Leaves are evergreen, and are a dark glossy green in color, ovate-acuminate in shape, and opposite in growth pattern. Kratom is evergreen rather than deciduous, and leaves are constantly being shed and being replaced, but there is some quasi-seasonal leaf shedding due to environmental conditions. During the dry season of the year leaf fall is more abundant, and new growth is more plentiful during the rainy season. When grown outside their natural tropical habitat, leaf fall occurs with colder temperatures, around 4 degrees Celsius.
Kratom can be grown from seeds, but it is important that the seeds are fresh. Germination rates are low at 20-30%, but once germinated the seedlings can grow to an average height of 14-19 feet.
Kratom prefers wet, humus-rich soils in a protected position. Being a heavy feeder, it requires very rich, fertile soil. It is drought sensitive, and if grown out of its native habitat, sensitive to frost. Propagation is by very fresh seed or cuttings. There is a low strike rate, due to a fungus which attacks xylem tissue.
Only little is known about growing kratom. Seeds and cuttings are very hard to find. Kratom cuttings are considered somewhat difficult to grow, though the plants themselves, once established, are relatively hardy. Because of the difficulty in getting cuttings to root, many people are experimenting with cloning. Two of the primary difficulties with cuttings appear to be that they are either attacked by fungus or simply never put out roots. Suggestions for dealing with these problems include:
– putting the cutting in water with an air bubbler to increase oxygen levels;
– using a small amount of fungicide in the water to ward of fungus growth;
– changing the water every day to reduce chances of fungus.
One person has found success using rock wool to hold the cutting in moisture while still allowing air flow, changing the water every day to cut down on fungus growth, and adding nutrients as roots start to grow.
It has been reported that the leaves of M. speciosa are most potent in the late autumn, just before the leaves fall off. It has been noted that plants grown in cold climates are weak. Plants grown in subtropical or warm temperate climate are weak in late winter and spring, but potent in late summer autumn and early winter. Most plants grown in a hothouse are also weak (reason not understood).