Alien Invaders III

Here is another one from Mexico! It seems that Mexico’s national pastime is to surreptitiously send humans across their border into the US and their plants all over the world! Any wonder so much of Mexico is a desert? This one, known as Huarmi in Spanish (did they get the spelling wrong? It could well be hurami), has managed to become a truly global weed and climbed to 1800 metres in the Shivaliks. For alien invaders, unlike for Capitalist economists, globalization is a given.

Ageratum conyzoides, as it is botanically known, is actually an over sexed herb, one that is said to produce around a hundred thousand seeds per plant and then shed them over 5 to 8 months to be borne far and wide by wind and water and of course hitching on to inland and overseas trade.

Neela phulnu (Ageratum conyzoides L.)
Neela phulnu (Ageratum conyzoides L.)

In bunches, the white or mauve-purple flowers of Ageratum are pleasing to the eye.  The local name Neela Phulnu sounds of Kangra origin, the alien having infested the Shivaliks perhaps long back.

Unlike Congress grass and Lantana, Ageratum poses a different kind of threat.  A lot more diabolic! Being a smallish herb, it gets mixed with agricultural crops and then uses very sophisticated weaponry to wreck damage.  This harmless looking invader proceeds to release bioactive metabolites into its surrounds. This raises a ‘stink’, so to say, and neighbouring plants (like rice, wheat, maize, peanut, cucumber and rye) are ‘nauseated’ into shriveling up and generally refusing to grow. It is a big nuisance in tomato farms in places harbouring disease causing pathogens.

In the Shivaliks, Neela phulnu interferes with grassland structure, impacts the growth and regeneration of native grasses and in many forest plant communities.

What we have here, quite simply, is an invader that ‘gets in’ somehow and then proceeds to multiply in super geometric progression, knowing full well that it is genetically programmed to produce and use invisible and intricate ‘chemical’ weapons that would make the crude attempts of Saddam Hussein to chemically bomb the Kurds look like fighting a full scale war with catapults. On top it these invaders are incessantly bobbing their white and purple heads and actually manage to fool people into admiring them.  Not unexpectedly, the Americans have a flourishing business around gardening Ageratums of all shapes and sizes!

Also known as the Billy Goat weed
Also known as the Billy Goat weed

There is a flip side too. Like all plants good at producing secondary metabolites, Ageratum too is a medicinal plant. Indigenous people in the tropical and sub-tropical world have made and used many medicines from Agerantum.  From treating pneumonia in Central Africa to curing burns and wounds; in India, folk medicine systems have used extracts as antidysentric and antilithic medicine. However, being a chemical ‘weapons factory’, caution is advised in trying to use Ageratum medicinally.

The other and bigger problem with this (and other) invasive aliens is that neither regular armies led by Hollywood stars nor the guerilla tactics of a Che Guevera or the satyagraha of Gandhi or Anna Hazare’s repeated fasts unto death are of any use. Neela phulnu has gone and lodged itself in the most devious domains of many countries where it continues to merrily spread and choke the natives, who can’t run away anyway.

So, what are the choices?

Call in the out –of –work NGOs and Mahila Mandals and have them uproot the fellows one by one; since farmers or those who could be on MNREGA lists are too preoccupied contemplating suicide. No need for the alien invaders to finish them off.

Or could we be looking at something that is infinitely better for the economy (at least of the US)?  A no holds barred Armageddon to annihilate these pesky, alien invaders.

Nodnat - is a pen name that the writer with deep knowledge of Himalayan flora and fauna and a keen environmentalist has adopted. He hails from Kotgarh, in Shimla Hills and retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests from Himachal Pradesh forest department.

2 Comments

    • If you look up ‘Centers of Origin and Diversity’ on the Internet, you would have an idea of how places of origin of plant species are determined. Very interesting. And most of foods we eat today apparently originated in and around Mexico and Latin America!

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