Nagarkurnool: ‘Parthenium’, a pretty flowering plant with little white flowers has become a most common invasive weed across the country in the past few decades. Do not be taken in by the slender weed which sways to the gushing wind which has earned her the name ‘Vayyari Bhaama’ due to its elegant appearance, in Telugu-speaking States. If the spread of this menacing weed is not controlled, its silent occupation not only threatens the agricultural output of the country, but also poses grave danger to public health.
Parthenium, a genus of North American in the sunflower tribe within the daisy family had entered India between 1948 and 1950 from Pune and Punjab, where IPL 480 variety of wheat was imported back then, stored in the go-downs in those states. Due to the good viability of its seeds, its pollination due to natural factors like air, water, cattle, birds and insects; has allowed it to spread its wings rapidly and dangerous across the country.
One plant of Parthenium can deliver thousand seeds and can travel up to 3 kilo metres through wind and can grow rapidly. Some of its harmful effects of its pollen include 40 per cent reduction of yield in dryland crops and vegetable varieties like tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers and other solanaceous plants, among many other crop varieties. The pollen from parthenium, once enters the stigma of another flowering plant, makes it to close down the ovule, preventing production of seeds. To humans, it is lethal to people suffering from bronchitis and has also proved to have caused asthma and skin allergies in otherwise so-called normal people. Cattle which sleep or rub themselves against these plants lose hair on their bodies and once eaten along with grass, the milk in dairy animals tastes sour.
This is one plant with every person must have played with during her/his/other’s childhood, without knowing its harmful effects. This weed grows anywhere whether it is in an agricultural land, forests or even in semi-urban towns or metropolitan cities.
Scientists, who have researched about this plant, have been alerting the general public about how dangerous the plant. However, little has been done to prevent the spread of this mischievous shrub. It was only after the international community has started observing August 16 till 22 as the week for eradication of parthenium, that the problem has been getting noticed.
Scientists believe that it may be next to impossible to completely eradicate the expansion of parthenium’s boundless territory, but they do suggest certain measures to be taken to mitigate this problem to an extent.
This plant is also a pestering problem to the farmers which would devour all the fertility of the crop fields resulting in diminishing the growth and yiled of the crop. Destroying this weed with strong survival advantages in the State, farmers are most worried about to control the spread and roots of parthenium.
According to Dr M Padmaiah, former Head of Social Sciences, ICAR-Indian Institute of Oilseeds Research, suggests many ways by which the spread of parthenium could be curtailed. One of the measures is to mix 1 litre water with 10-20 grams of salt and to spray on the plant. Other ways are to pluck the entire plant out from its roots and dispose it off manually. Weedicides and herbicides could also be used to kill the plants.
However, these remedies need to be tried before flowering of parthenium, at the onset of monsoons, without which results are hard to achieve, as the pollen starts settling down on land.
Speaking to Telangana Today, he also suggested growing stylo grass, which has the ability to suppress parthenium. However, this works only in open areas between fruit-bearing trees in gardens. Cassia Tora, which is commonly called ‘Chakoda,’ medicinal plants like Utthareni and marigold are also capable to replace parthenium by broadcasting of seeds during February-April in the infested area as their roots release a chemical which is antagonistic to parthenium.
While all these adaptive and mitigative measures need to be done while the plant has not attained flowering stage, there is one adaptive measure he suggests, which is to use it as organic matter and compost before its flowering stage.
There is an insect called ‘Zygogramma Bicolorata’ (a genus of leaf beetles), which eats away the leaves of parthenium, but it doesn’t eat away the flowers of the deadly plant completely.
“More than all these measures, there is an urgent need to prevent the spread of this weed. This can only be done on a war footing by involving communities in urban areas, semi-urban areas and villages to take it up as a movement to eradicate parthenium. Otherwise the adverse impact it has on our agricultural and horticultural yield can have irreversible impact on farming and the health of the society as a whole,” Dr Padmaiah opined.