Not so lovable lantana

Not so lovable lantana
Highlights

Looks can be deceiving they say, the same goes with lantana, the flower clusters that come in a range of mixed colours- red, orange, yellow, white and violet are pleasing to the eye but bad for biodiversity.

Looks can be deceiving they say, the same goes with lantana, the flower clusters that come in a range of mixed colours- red, orange, yellow, white and violet are pleasing to the eye but bad for biodiversity.

What was brought as an ornamental garden plant from Mexico, Lantana camera L has now become a problem to authorities of wildlife sanctuaries, forest department officials and farmers.

It grows fast and does not allow other plants, shrubs and even grass to grow and as a result causes large scale migration of herbivores, leads to shortage of food sources for carnivorous animals like leopards and tigers.

The malaise has spread across the country from Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu to Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. Ramakrishna, deputy conservator of forests, AP Forest department says, “When I was the district forest officer we tried to remove lantana in 1,000 hectares in Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary. It grows fast and we need huge budget to get rid of lantana.”

According to rough estimates, the cost of control is $200 per hectare in India but Forest departments hardly have the budget. A senior official of the Forest department said that the allotted budget is not sufficient for day-to-day activities and salaries for staff.

Even as governments dilly-dally, lantana keeps invading bit by bit eating away precious land that was meant for a variety of plants that is essential for ecological balance. Rajeev M, member of the Biodiversity Board in united AP says, “Though lantana has its use as it provides livelihood to people who make handicrafts its effect on wildlife and the eco-system is more.”

In Telangana lantana infested areas are only increasing and the problem is acute in Pocharam wildlife sanctuary and Amrabad Tiger Reserve. Extermination measures in the last 200 years have failed and lantana has spread to more than 13 million hectares in India.

Ramakrishna says that the plant is toxic to birds and cattle as its leaves are poisonous, it increases water run-off and causes soil erosion. Experts say that with the decline of herbivores due to migration leads to shortage of food sources for leopards and tigers.

How lantana affects biodiversity
• In areas where lantana weed runs riot, grazing lands have shrunk
• Migration of herbivores leads to shortage in food sources for leopards and tigers
• Its leaves are toxic to birds and cattle
• Lantana grows fast and does not allow even shrubs and grass to grow
• Increases water run-off and as a result soil erosion is common
• Ripe berries of lantana contain toxic substances which affect cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, pigs and rabbits

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