Physiological and cannabinoid responses of hemp (Cannabis sativa) to rock phosphate dust under tropical conditions

Growing a high-value crop such as industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in post-mining environments is economically and environmentally attractive but faces a range of biotic and abiotic challenges. An opportunity to investigate the cultivation of C. sativa presented itself as part of post-mining activities on Christmas Island (Australia) to profitably utilise disused phosphate (PS) quarries. Challenges to plant growth and cadmium (Cd) uptake were addressed in this study using potted plants under fully controlled conditions in a growth chamber. A complete nutritional spectrum, slow-release fertiliser was applied to all plants as a control treatment, and two levels of rock PS dust, a waste product of PS mining that contains 35% phosphorus (P) and 40ppm of naturally occurring Cd, were applied at 54 and 162gL-1. After 12weeks, control plants (no PS dust) significantly differed in phenological development, with no flower production, lower aboveground biomass and reduced photosynthesis efficiency than those with P applied as rock dust. Compared with the controls, the 54gL-1 level of P dust increased shoot biomass by 38%, while 162gL-1 increased shoot biomass by 85%. The concentration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol also increased with the higher P levels. Cd uptake from PS dust by C. sativa was substantial and warrants further investigation. However, there was no increase in Cd content between the 54 and 162gL-1 application rates in seed and leaf. Results indicate that hemp could become a high-value crop on Christmas Island, with the readily available rock PS dust providing a source of P.

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