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The Rooibos plant  - Aspalathus linearis
 
Rooibos – Afrikaans for ‘red bush' – derives its name from the fine, needle-like leaves of the plant, which turn red during the fermentation process.

As its Latin name ( Aspalathus Linearis ) indicates, Rooibos belongs to the uniquely South African Aspalathus plant group, also part of the legume family. Of the more than 200 species in this group, Rooibos is the only specie that has economic value. Had it not been for the ingenuity of the indigenous people of the Cedarberg mountains, Rooibos would have escaped the world's attention and vanished into obscurity as just another mountain bush.
 
 
The shrub-like plant consists of a central main stem of smooth bark. Close to the soil surface the plant subdivides into various equally strong offshoots, followed by thin, flimsy side branches. These side branches bear thin, sharp, soft, needle-like leaves of approximately 10 mm in length, either single or in bunches. In its natural state, the growth height of the plant varies from 1 m to 1,5 m. The height of the harvested plant is subject to numerous variables (including age, climate and soil conditions of the production area), allowing it to vary between 0,5 m to 1,5 m.
 
  Rooibos thrives in a winter rainfall production area. Its active growth only starts in spring, peaking towards midsummer, and then the growth declines. October usually sees the plant covered in tiny, yellow, pea-shaped flowers. Every one of these flowers produces a small legume, containing a single, light yellow, hard shelled, dicotyledonous seed. Each of these seeds is of miniature size but of precious worth. Every legume bears only a single seed, which pops open and shoots out as soon as it has sufficiently ripened. Rooibos seed used to be extremely expensive before it was discovered that ants avidly collect them. Today some farmers still gather seed from anthills, but it is more commonly retrieved by sifting the sand around the seedling plants. Being hard shelled by nature, the seed is scrubbed by mechanical scourers to increase its germination potential from approximately 25 - 30% to 85 - 95%.
 
Once treated with fungicides and insecticides, the seed is ready to be sown. On average, one kilogram of seed yields between six to ten hectares of plantation, depending on whether the seed is directly sown into the ground, or first cultivated in a nursery and then transplanted into the plantation.
 
 
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