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The Island's Blooms - The Pyrethrum

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  The pyrethrum is a white, perennial flower with an average diameter of 5 cm.
  These flowers have been cultivated since the beginning of the Taisho era (1912 - 1925) for their mosquito-repelling properties. In its heyday, the pyrethrum used tobe grown on more than 350 hectares of land and used to cover most of the island like a white carpet but, with the popularization of chemical repellents, harvests were gradually reduced. Nowadays, the pyrethrum is cultivated in three places for preservation and as tourist attractions.

For information
Innoshima General Affairs Industrial Promotion SectionTrade, Tourism and Culture Office
Tel.: 0845-26-6212

The Pyrethrum's Introduction in Japan
  The pyrethrum was first introduced in Japan in the 19th year of the Meiji era (1886). It's origin was the Dalmatian region of the Balkan Peninsula. Around 1875, an American who came to visit the mandarin garden of Eiichiro Ueyama (founder of the Kincho company) proposed the exchange of rare plants. The seeds of pyrethrums and seedlings of orange trees were thus exchanged in 1886. Mr. Ueyama searched all over for the proper land to plant the pyrethrum; he found it in Mukaishima-cho. The late Eiichiro Ueyama was enshrined in the "Pyrethrum Shinto shrine", built in 1930, in Mukaishima-cho, where the pyrethrum was first planted. A while later, the Australian consul in Japan at the time, Mr. Geolt Huurot, is said to have learned of the pyrethrum's easy adaptation to conditions in Japan and thus gave seeds to the former Ministry of Agriculture, which initiated cultivation in Wakayama Prefecture.

A White Carpet
  Afterwards, the main regions of production shifted to Hokkaido and the Seto inland sea region. In Hokkaido, production of pyrethrum flourished from around 1920 to when World War II ended, in 1945. However, because of the high acidity of the cultivated land, other crops did not do as well. As for the cultivation method, called "veteran use," flowers are picked from the branches after a waiting period of a few years. This unfortunately leads to poor harvests and, with the postwar shortages, production was changed to other crops.

  After 1955, production decreased rapidly; the pyrethrum is hardly being grown now in Hokkaido. As for the Seto inland sea region, cultivation started in 1897 and the area dedicated to the pyrethrum increased rapidly. The market was eventually expanded to China, Korea and the southern seas, to say nothing of the United States, Germany, and Australia. At one time, the pyrethrum became the single most important Japanese export and the country was once the largest producer in the world. The peak of production was reached between 1937 and 1952.

  Production briefly declined when Germany invented the first synthetic pesticides, but the interruption of trade due to the First World War renewed the demand for pyrethrum and caused prices to skyrocket.

  At the time, the town of Shigei-cho, with all its pyrethrum fields, was literally covered with a white carpet. As far as the eye could see, everything was white fields of flowers, the pine-covered summit of Mt. Shirataki being the sole exception. It is said that people even went to tiny Hosojima and Kobosojima islands by boat to cultivate the flowers.

Area Dedicated to Pyrethrum Production in Innoshima
1915 10ha
1917 100ha
1940 (Peek) 350ha (210ha in Shigei-cho)
1963 (Postwar Peek) 270ha
1970 37ha (34ha in Shigei-cho)
1972 8ha
2003 20ha (Shigei Umagami Shinto shrine), 18.8ha (south side of the Flower Center), 3ha (Mt. Shirataki Flower Line observatory)

Moving with the Flow of Time
  With the end of World War I, synthetic pesticides were once more introduced in Japan, driving prices down and forcing a reduction of production. After World War II, the cultivation was drastically shifted to other crops to increase food production, and the cultivation of pyrethrum decreased sharply from 1946. Production was again increased from 1953 to 1964, as pyrethrum was used in the making of mosquito-repellent incense and agricultural chemicals, but synthetic insecticides (like Pyrethrin) and the increase of cheap, good quality extracts from Kenya (for better mosquito-repellent incenses) caused the cultivation of pyrethrum to disappear almost entirely in 1972. It is in this region of the Seto inland sea that cultivation lasted the longest, until national production stopped entirely.

Conditions allowing for good cultivation of pyrethrum in the Inland Sea region
1. Good natural drainage and low rainfall average during the flowering season
2. Spring and autumn, the best periods for nourishment, are fairly long, making the growth period shorter than the flowering period by comparison.
3. Meteorological conditions in winter are ideal for the differentiation of buds, allowing for abundant harvests.
4. The pyrethrum flowers bloom at the same time, allowing for easy and efficient harvests.
5. The soil is rather poor, with many places actually made of granite. However, the pyrethrum thrives even in these conditions, allowing for a larger profit margin than most other crops.
6. The pyrethrum is grown as part of a very advanced intercropping system (wheat, pyrethrum, blue yam and sweet potatoes)

The people who preserve and grow the pyrethrum
photo   The pyrethrum is currently grown as a tourist attraction. There are about 41.8 hectares of land dedicated to the white flowers in Innoshima, with 20ha in Shigei-cho's Umagami, 18.8ha at the Flower Center's south side area and 3ha at Mt. Shiratani's Flower Line observatory. Every year, local television and newspaper crews come to cover the beginning of the flowering season.

  Mr. Tomio Murakami has long grown and protected the pyrethrum. Pointing to his house, overlooking the fields, he says: “I can see this field from my window. At this time of year, there are lots of people who come to look at the flowers, take pictures, etc. It always makes me so happy.” He pulls out weeds, scatters fertilizer and pesticide and repairs the paths to make them stroller-friendly. He even went so far as removing the trees and bushes at the top of the field and clear out a space for people to take pictures. “I do most of the fertilizing and weeding alone” he says. “It's more a hobby than work, really. And so many people come from the suburbs to see the flowers” he adds with a smile.


  Onomichi City Hall
15-1, Kubo 1-chome, Onomichi-shi, 722-8501
Tel.: 0848-25-7111    Fax.: 0848-37-2740

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