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Horticulture and Production
Click here for a free downloadable article entitled "Noni cultivation in Hawaii."
NOTE: Many of Hawaii’s noni growers shared their knowledge and experience with the author of this web site. Statements here about noni cultivation are not intended as explicit recommendations but rather as suggestions based on growers’ experience.
noni fruit noni tree

Propagation of Noni

Noni is propagated either from seed or stem cuttings. The primary disadvantage of seed propagation is that without seed treatment, germination takes 6-12 months or more, whereas stem cuttings can be rooted in approximately 1-2 months. The disadvantage of producing plants vegetatively from cuttings is that they may not be as strong and disease-resistant as seedlings, and the trunk and branches may split and break during the first years of fruit production.

Cultivation from seed

Note: For more detailed information about noni seeds and their processing and germination, click here for a free downloadable article entitled "Hawaiian Noni Seed Processing and Germination." [PDF, 657 KB]

Noni seeds are reddish-brown, oblong-triangular, and have a conspicuous air chamber. They are buoyant and hydrophobic due to this air chamber and their durable, water-repellant, fibrous seed coat. The seed coat is very tough, relatively thick, and covered with cellophane-like parchment layers. A single large noni fruit can contain well over 100 seeds.
noni seed
A single noni seed free of fruit flesh. Note the conspicuous air chamber (light brown-colored bubble) in the upper-right hand portion of this seed.
floating noni seeds
Noni seeds can float for many weeks.
noni seedling
Young noni plant grown from seed in a 4-inch pot.
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Only soft, ripened noni fruits should be chosen for seed collection. The seeds must be separated from the fibrous, clinging fruit flesh. First, split the fruit by hand into smaller pieces. Separate the seeds from the flesh using a strong spray of water and a firm screen or colander, washing the pulp through the screen while retaining the cleaned seeds. Rubbing the fruit fragments on the screen by hand or with a blunt object can help force the fruit flesh through the screen. It may take 15 minutes or more of vigorous washing and rubbing to detach most of the flesh from the seeds.
ripened noni fruit
Ripened noni fruit with seeds. A single fruit may have hundreds of seeds.
flesh of noni fruit
Ripened noni fruits break up easily by hand, but the pulp clings to the seeds. To obtain noni seeds for planting, they may be planted with the pulp attached, or the pulp may be separated from the seeds first. The seeds may be dried or not dried before planting.
Seed scarification. Scarifying the hard seed coat by nicking or puncturing it significantly reduces germination time, improves germination percentage, and promotes uniform sprouting. Whereas in nature the seed coat must gradually decompose before water can enter, scarification overcomes this natural seed dormancy. Using a household blender to separate seeds from the ripened fruit flesh can also result in nicking the seed coats, or the seeds can be suspended in water and subjected to short pulses of blending.
Seed drying and storage. Noni seeds can be dried and stored, but the length of time they will remain viable is not known. After cleaning, spread the seeds out on newspaper and dry them in the shade or indoors for two or three days. Store the seeds in an air-tight container at room temperature.
Planting. Fresh noni seeds can be planted immediately after extraction from the fruit. Some growers soak the seeds until they start to germinate, then plant them in containers, while others plant fresh seeds without presoaking treatment. The seedlings are usually grown for about nine months to a year before they are transplanted to the field. Some growers just plant fruit fragments containing seeds directly into the field soil.
Germination. Noni seeds require hot, wet conditions for optimum germination. Un-scarified seeds require several months to a year before natural germination takes place, but their germination can be reduced to a month or so using heat. The seeds can tolerate temperature of 100°F (38°C), perhaps even higher. Select the warmest spot in the nursery or greenhouse to germinate noni seeds. Or, heat can be supplied using nursery heating pads under the seed flats, or by placing the flats or containers in a special “hoop house” covered with clear plastic. If germinated outside, partial sun is preferable to full sun to avoid excessive drying of the medium.

Noni seeds may be germinated in seedling flats or trays or sown directly in containers. A light medium that retains water yet remains aerated is best. Suitable components for a planting medium include vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, commercial potting media, compost, and fine volcanic cinder. For seedling flats, use a light medium, such as one part each of perlite and peat moss, or perlite, vermiculite, and potting soil in a 2:1:1 ratio. For containers, a slightly heavier medium is better, such as one part of perlite or vermiculite and three parts of a potting mix. Fertilizers should not be mixed into the medium, because additional nutrients are not needed until after the plants have their first true leaves.
Growth media. Artificial growth media are preferred to field soil for germinating and growing out noni seedlings. These relatively sterile media give the plants the cleanest start, whereas soil (particularly agricultural field soil) tends to contain pathogens that cause plant diseases. For example, many agricultural soils are infested with root-knot nematodes, and noni is highly susceptible to the disease (known as noni root-knot disease) caused by these microscopic, parasitic worms.
Growth containers. Deeper seedling flats are preferred to shallow flats, because seedlings with longer tap roots are produced. Seedlings with deep, well established taproots tend to withstand the shock of transplanting better and become established more quickly than seedlings with short misshapen (“J-rooted”) taproots. Seedlings may be planted directly into larger containers or transplanted from the seedling bed into pots.

When seeds are germinated in flats, they should be transplanted into growing containers within a few weeks of germinating. The plant size and vigor achieved depends to a large extent on the size of pot used—the larger and deeper the pot, the larger and more vigorous the noni seedling. “Gallon” pots (about 6 inches in diameter at the top) provide sufficient rooting volume to produce large, healthy seedlings for transplanting. Noni plants can become pot-bound and stop growing if the pot is too small or shallow or they are grown for more than 9–12 months. Fortunately, noni is a vigorous plant with a strong root system that can easily recover from pot-bound conditions once transplanted into suitable field conditions.
Seedling care. Generally, noni seedlings are grown in pots for a minimum of 9–12 months in full sun before they are transplanted to the field. Seedlings up to 3 years old or more may also be planted.

Seedlings and young plants grown from cuttings can be given liquid fertilizer once a month, or a controlled-release fertilizer less often (depending on the formulation’s release period). Balanced formulations such as 14-14-14 that also contain micronutrients (“minor elements”) are advised. Young plants also respond well to applications of dilute, liquid foliar fertilizers. As plants become established, granular, rapidly soluble formulations can be used. Noni is relatively salt-tolerant, and fertilizer burn is uncommon under normal conditions.
noni seedbed noni nursery
Noni seedlings ready for transplanting into the field.
These plants are grown in black plastic, 1-gallon perforate grow bags.
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Vegetative Propagation

Cultivation of noni plants from stem cuttings (verticals or laterals) reduces the time required to obtain plants that are ready for transplanting. Cuttings from stems and branches will sprout roots readily under the proper conditions. A rooting compound may prove helpful in promoting rapid root establishment.

Select vigorous plants for stem propagation. Remove a branch or stem and check for fresh sap flow from the wound. If the sap flows readily, cuttings could be made from these materials. If sap does not ooze from the cut ends, discard the material and select another plant, another location, or perhaps wait for a better time of year. Sap flow indicates a vigorous, actively growing plant with relatively high reserves of energy.

Insert the cut end of the freshly cut noni stem into a pot containing a general-purpose growth medium. Again, an artificial, pathogen-free medium is preferred to untreated agricultural field soil. Select a location with partial shade and keep the cuttings well watered until rooting occurs. After rooting, move the plants into full sun and begin fertilizer applications.
Noni plants may be produced by stem cuttings.
stem cutting
Vertical stem cutting in a cinder-soil mix, sprouting new side branches.
stem cutting
Vertical stem cutting in a cinder-soil mix, sprouting new side branches.
Young noni plant derived from a lateral stem cutting
Young noni plant derived from a lateral stem cutting. Plants derived from lateral stem cuttings tend to grow in a prostrate habit and may be susceptible to splitting of branches when the fruit load is heavy. Farmers choose to make plants from cuttings because it can save a significant amount of time from planting to first harvest.
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Noni plants may also be produced by air layering or by digging up plants that have sprouted from seed of having sprouted from the root system of a mature plant (see below).
noni root

Noni foliage may sprout from the roots of mature noni plants, as shown above. By severing the segment of root, digging it up with the attached foliage, and planting it, a new noni plant (clone) may be obtained.

Field cultivation

  • Site selection

    Avoid locations where other crops have been planted recently, due to the susceptibility of noni to root-knot nematodes. Select a site in full or partial sun with well drained, well aerated soil. Avoid heavy soils, compacted areas, and flood-prone sites. Prepare a hole about the size of the pot and transplant carefully. In rocky locations, “rip” the land (disturb or plow the sub soil) before grading to prepare a flat or gently sloping field.

  • Windbreaks

    Young noni transplants do not grow well where winds are strong. Such conditions may exist along windward coasts; on the Island of Hawaii parts of the Hamakua coast and Kau are very windy. If a windy site is selected for noni cultivation, windbreaks should be planted for protection. Trees such as eucalyptus, ironwood, or wili-wili planted 150 feet apart are excellent windbreaks for noni. Noni is not adversely affected by planting near ironwood.

  • Varieties

    No cultivated varieties of noni are recognized in Hawaii, and no germplasm collections are known of anywhere. Another species, Morinda trimera, resembles M. citrifolia but has smaller leaves and fruits. M. citrifolia var. potteri is a noni with variegated, green-and-white leaves.

    Among noni plants grown in Hawaii, there appears to be significant, heritable variability in fruit size, shape, and number of seeds. This suggests that through selection, improvement for desirable noni fruit traits can be achieved.

  • Planting spacing

    An appropriate interplant spacing for noni is 10–15 feet. At 12-foot spacing there are 290 noni plants per acre. Higher planting densities (closer plant spacing) result in crowding and may exacerbate certain pest or disease problems.

  • Soils

    Noni is an unusual plant, because it can easily tolerate and thrive in a wide range of soils and conditions. In Hawaii it can grow under almost any soil conditions at low altitudes.

  • Pruning

    Young plants less than 3 years old may be pruned back after or during their first production of fruit. In the following years, the pruned plants will become bushy. Because noni trees can reach a height of approximately 20 feet, growers may wish to prune the vertical branches of mature plants to facilitate fruit harvest. Pruning is an effective means of disrupting conditions conducive to pest and disease outbreaks.

  • Nutrition and fertilizer

    The amount of nutrients and frequency of fertilizer applications required by noni depends on the soil and rainfall. Noni trees growing in forests usually appear healthy without the benefit of any artificial fertilizers. This suggests that noni may require only small amounts of fertilizer to grow well. In general, however, if intensive fruit production is desired in an agricultural setting, a fertilizer program is recommended. Research is needed to develop the best fertilizer regimes for noni production in the various regions of Hawaii where noni might be grown. It is suspected that noni will do best with relatively frequent applications of small amounts of fertilizer. Noni, being salt-tolerant, will also tolerate high levels of fertilizer salts in the root zone without damage or burning to the plant.

    The strategy for providing nutrients to noni is similar to that for other fruit crops such as citrus of coffee. Young, non-fruiting noni plants are encouraged to produce lush vegetative growth with balanced fertilizers such as 14-14-14 or 16-16-16, whereas more mature or flowering/fruiting plants are encouraged to produce many large fruits by applying high-phosphorous fertilizers such as 10-20-20 or 1-45-10. Young seedlings and transplants are given controlled-release formulations, while older, mature plants are given rapidly available granular formulations. Fertilizer should be applied away from the trunk of the tree, at the “drip line” of the plant, the area where water drips from the edge of the leaf canopy.

    Noni plants of all ages respond well to sprays of foliar fertilizers. Noni flower and fruit production is very responsive to sprays of high-phosphorous foliar fertilizers (e.g., 10-45-10) and products (e.g., seaweed emulsions) containing nitrogen and minor elements.

    Noni should be fertilized frequently using smaller amounts of fertilizer, rather than infrequently using larger amounts. In high-rainfall areas, young plants up to a year old can be given _ pound per month of balanced fertilizer (14-14-14), and more mature plants can be given up to 1 pound per month.

    Effective organic fertilizers for noni cultivation include crushed coral, dolomite, K-mag, 7-7-7, and composted chicken manure and macadamia nut husks. Some locations will benefit from yearly applications of lime, about 1 pound per plant.

  • Irrigation

    Noni thrives with moderate irrigation and can survive extended periods of drought once established and mature. When plants are less than 2-3 years old and conditions are dry, irrigate once or more a week, applying up to 10 gallons per plant; for older plants, irrigate less frequently. Over-watering can accelerate damage to noni from root-knot nematodes, cause root rot, and leach fertilizer nutrients beyond the root zone.
noni cultivation
Noni cultivation in deep soil (on former sugar cane plantation) near Honoka’a on the Hamakua coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. This farmer chose 1-foot plant spacing between plants within rows. Weed control is the biggest problem facing farmers who plant noni on the Hamakua coast or in deep soils in Hawaii.
Click here for more noni cultivation photos.
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Last Updated on December 7, 2006