They may have made for a pretty backdrop for Bollywood songs in the 1960s, but today poplars are literally sowing seeds of discontentment in Kashmir.
The female species of the plant — Populus deltoids — has left the Valley sneezing and coughing ever since it started shedding seeds in the second week of April. So much so that J&K legislative assembly speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone has had to take up the issue on an urgent basis.
Kashmir is dotted with poplars imported from Russia, America, Bulgaria and Australia. And this particular species, known for shedding maximum seeds, was imported by the social forestry department in 1982 from the US. It is banned in the West, but lines the streets of the Valley.
The seed menace caught the government's attention after tourists and locals falling ill complained to the government. The state legislative council’s house committee is over the issue on Friday.
“Every year there is a sudden spurt in lung and throat illnesses, and cold and fever, during April-May. The seeds are also allergic to eyes,” said Dr Muhammad Salim Khan of the Srinagar Government Medical College. Many Srinagar schools have even prescribed masks to students.
The government is left with little option but to fell all such trees. “First, we need to identify the female species, then replace them with male ones,” said pollution control board chairman Lal Chand. These seeds do not produce trees.
Srinagar’s Chest Disease hospital has seen a sudden spurt in the outpatient department since April, when it registered 9,200 patients.
Poplar lives up to 40 years and matures in just three years. It grows up to 20-30ft. Kashmir’s indigenous ‘Kabuli Phrast’, with white bark and silvery leaves, dots the Srinagar-Baramulla and Srinagar-Anantang highways.