Staff Reporter

Parthenium Awareness Week focuses on an alien trouble-maker

BANGALORE: Those who don’t know better would see it as a pretty little plant with delicate white flowers. But it is not really an object of affection, and considerable efforts have gone into getting rid of this resilient menace.

To spread awareness about this “obnoxious weed of worldwide occurrence”, the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) is observing the Parthenium Awareness Week. Called “congress grass” in local parlance, it is a native of Mexico, Cuba, West Indies and the Americas and sneaked in when India imported foodgrains post-Independence. In fact, it was first reported in 1956 in Pune.

According to T.V. Ramachandra Prasad, professor of agronomy at UAS. “The weed spread all over Maharashtra when the Panshet dam in Pune broke. It eventually extended its presence to all over southern India through vehicular traffic and other agents of dispersal.”

Through its insidious qualities, parthenium has decreased the extent of grazing land, affected crop production and caused numerous health problems. “The weed is particularly prevalent in the 80 sq. km radius of Bangalore,” said Prof Prasad.

When the weed hits croplands, it is particularly disastrous. He said: “Labourers are unwilling to uproot them because it causes skin and respiratory diseases even if they wear protective gear.”

With its aggressive nature, the parthenium suppresses the growth of other plants. Only the Cassia species of plants, especially Cassia uniflora and Cassia tora, have been able to reduce the dominance of parthenium. Another method to control the weed has been the introduction of the Mexican beetle.Unfortunately both these methods have their drawbacks.

“The Mexican beetle is effective only in the rainy season and the Cassia plants take four to five years to establish themselves,” said Prof. Prasad.

If you want help in dealing with the menace, call UAS on 23515944.