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The Killer Daisy

The flower that’s gaining an important role in organic farming

Photo by Vito Fusco

The pyrethrum is a flower. Actually, it’s the “flower of death”, a nickname that neatly describes this delicate daisy imbued with murderous power. The pyrethrum, which is cultivated mainly in the hills of Nakuru in Kenya, is the arch foe of the insect world. Indeed, when insects encounter the substance extracted from the flower, they are stunned, paralysis sets in and then they die. Used for centuries as a natural insecticide, it was only in the middle of the 19th century that pyrethrum made an impact on the global pesticides market, earning an eminent position among natural insecticides. It contains, in fact, extremely low quantities of toxic or harmful substances; it is extremely volatile and does not penetrate the plant sap.

During the nineteen eighties, however, the pyrethrum crisis began, caused mainly by the chemical synthesis of pyrethroids that gave life to a very different market of products that were cheaper but not organic. Today, however, this special daisy is being grown once again on the clay hills of Nakuru at an altitude of over 1500 metres. The Kenyan government has decided to liberalize production of pyrethrum, allowing private companies to get involved as part of an ambitious attempt to revive the sector and help local farmers meet the growing global demand for organic products. Once sown, the plant will provide a yield approximately every 15 days, all year round.


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