Kratom's Not Evergreen
Updated: Sep 3, 2019
A simple analysis of kratom's deciduousness and sunlight/pigment interactions
It takes less than half a second on Google to return 79,500 results saying the same thing:
Mitragyna speciosa (commonly known as kratom)
is a tropical evergreen tree
in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia.
But is it really?
In botany, an evergreen is a plant that has leaves throughout the year that are always green. This is in contrast to a deciduous plant, which will completely lose its foliage during the winter or dry season. Strangely, the classification of evergreen applies even if the plant retains its foliage only because it's in a warm, wet climate. By this definition, rainforest trees are evergreen.
But what happens if you take a so-called evergreen tree out of the rainforest? Kratom, specifically. It doesn't stay green and it loses its leaves.
In America, kratom is not an evergreen tree. It's a deciduous tree ---- or at the very least a semi-deciduous tree. Its leaves change color and fall off. The only reason it's classified as an evergreen is because in its native climate, there is no winter, just a wet season and a dry season, and without huge drops in temperature the leaves remain intact.
However, take kratom out of the rainforest or away from the riverbanks of humid southeast Asia, and the species clearly proves itself to be deciduous. This means it changes beautiful colors and drops its leaves in the fall, stays naked in a dormant state during winter, and then re-buds and leafs up again in the springtime.
In our studies we subject living kratom trees to ongoing changes in environmental stimuli, and observe marked visible changes in color, texture, leaf shape and other attributes in response to these environmental variables. We can definitively say there is a causal relationship between light wavelength and leaf color, as well as between other environmental variables and general appearance.
Wanna break it down in a fun way?
Why are trees generally green?
Plants are green because our sun is green. Primarily green anyway. The sun also puts out light in the red and blue wavelengths. Chlorophyll in the plants' leaves absorbs the red and blue light, and reflects the green light. Plants are green because they reflect the green light of the sun.
Although you often see kratom looking green, that is only one of the many colors it can be. It all comes down to how environmental stimuli, including light source and wavelength, interact with or break down plant pigments.
What are plant pigments?
When we think of the word pigment, we likely think of paint or dye... but in the plant world, a pigment is a molecule secreted within a plant that gives it its color. Plant pigments give color to leaves, flowers and fruits, and are also important in controlling photosynthesis, growth and development.
Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color.
Carotenoids provide the yellow, orange and brown colors.
Anthocyanins give red and purple colors.
In contrast to the other two pigments, antnocyanins are most often produced naturally in the autumn in response to bright light and excess plant sugars in the leaves cells. During summer the chlorophyll is so high it overwhelms all the other pigments present in the leaf. As days grow shorter, chlorophyll-fueled photosynthesis slows down and stops, allowing carotenoids and anthocyanins to become visible.
Soil conditions affect plant color
A plant's color is also influenced by another complex interaction between these three main plant pigments and the acidity within the plant cells, as measured on the pH scale. Soil pH has a direct impact on this overall acidity. Therefore introducing new soil that alters the pH of your plant's cells can instigate color changes.
Soils rich in nitrogen, especially those of a more acidic pH like Fox Farm Ocean Forest, can enhance the richness of the greens expressed in the leaves of kratom plants. Kratom is happiest around a pH of 5.8. Sometimes Fox Farm can have a pH as high as 6.5, which is the upper limit of kratom's comfort level. Using a pH kit to adjust your plant's pH will keep colors popping and plants happy.
Experiment with environment variables to yield more colors
Experimenting with soil, temperature, light source, wavelength and other environmental variables will result in a greater display of pigment variation than is commonly observed in southeast Asia where the species remains evergreen. Genetic diversity in non-traditional environments allows us to observe individuated response levels to these stimuli, yielding changes in appearance we would not otherwise see under traditional circumstances and amplifying those we would.
The element of surprise is one of the enjoyable benefits of exploring genetically diverse organisms.
Special properties of kratom pigments
According to kratom science, kratom's plant pigments have a built-in self oxidizing mechanism that directly correlates to the color of the leaf and the energetic effects of the finished product. Green-looking kratom leaves can be dried under conditions that trigger the plant's self-oxidizing pigments, turning those leaves red... which in turn seems to trigger oxidation of the alkaloids associated with the more relaxed powders. Light, heat and humidity are some of the conditions that trigger greater levels of pigment (and apparently alkaloid) oxidation. The pigments and the alkaloids themselves seem to be inextricably linked. So much more study needs to be done, but we created these rainbow leaves from formerly all-green leaves.... in an attempt to explore the outer limits of curing.
How do I get my kratom plants to change colors?
Temperature, light, soil conditions and water supply have an influence on the degree and the duration of color changes in leaves. Low temperatures above freezing will favor anthocyanin formation producing bright reds. Extended darkness or suddenly bright sunlight can give leaves a rusty color. Manure, cold and pH changes can also bring about oranges, bronzes and purples. Rainy and/or overcast days tend to increase the intensity of fall colors in many species. Experiment with your light, temperature, soil conditions and moisture levels to see what kind of colors you can coax out of your specimens.
It's important to emphasize that kratom changes color after harvest too! The fine art of curing can see once-green leaves dried to any number of rainbow colors. And if the leaves are harvested when they are already a unique color, that color can be preserved or destroyed by the drying process. More information on this subject can be found in our fundamentals of curing article.
Indoor vs outdoor growing and light cycles
Indoor growing allows you to maintain relatively uniform environmental conditions as well as adjust those conditions at will. This can affect the color and visible appearance of your specimens. If you move your indoor plants outside, you will likely notice them turn a rusty red. Compared to the indoor grow lights, the sun is incredibly powerful; the plants don't need to produce as much cholrophyll to make energy. As the production of chlorophyll and its related green pigments taper back, kratom's other pigments can become visible.
Once the specimens acclimate to the direct natural sunlight, the leaves may begin coming in green again. You will likely notice a marked difference in the texture of the leaves between indoor and outdoor growing. Indoors, especially in high humidity, they will be very silky. Outside in lower humidity or in wind, they will thicken up, often growing in smaller and more rigid.
Periodically modifying your tree's environment may yield any number of visual changes.
Allowing your outdoor kratom trees to go through a natural autumn will cause their leaves to fall. They will then either go dormant over winter if the weather is cold, or you can get them to refoliate by giving them warmth and light with controlled indoor/outdoor grow equipment. For the health and happiness of your specimen, avoid freezing temperatures and snow, as these are warmth-loving tropical trees and we are still working on developing lines that will thrive in snow and frost. Some kratom trees will survive, but others will not.
Want to keep your kratom evergreen?
If you want to keep your kratom from going dormant in the winter, you can grow indoors in a temperature controlled warm/humid environment. This way you can harvest at any time of year. You can also can grow outdoors in the warm season, and bring your trees inside in the cold season.
In Indonesia, complete defoliations twice yearly are standard, but you can also glean smaller amounts from your trees more frequently.
There is no right or wrong way. Your cultivation style should adapt to fill your need.