How a colonial legacy plant, lantana camara, is destroying Karnataka’s forests
Travelling along the Gundlupet-Ooty Road inside Bandipur National Park, one is greeted by the now-familiar sight of a thick bush called lantana camara.
The lantana, like in most forests, has dried up this year due to deficient rains in the state. Karnataka was recently in the news for the fires that ravaged its forests.
State forest minister Ramnath Rai said about 715 sq km of forest land has been destroyed in the fires. Of this, about 40 hectares of destroyed forest land was in Bandipur.
“The drought and other favourable conditions helped spread the man-made fire but dried up lantana played a major part as well,” said T Heeralal, Bandipur park director . He said there were essentially two types of fires that affect forests — ground fires and canopy fires.
“Ground fires are the ones that involve burning of dried leaves and grass. These fires have been a part of cultivation practices of tribals for centuries,” said Sidappa Setty of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE). “These fires, if controlled, can help eradicate accumulated biomass and prepare the land for cultivation.”
However, Heeralal said the dried up lantana in Bandipur made matters worse as it converted ground fires into canopy fires, where even trees were affected.
While India has a rich diversity of forests, lantana camara has successfully invaded most parts of the country.
And the root of this problem lies in its introduction in India between 1805 and 1810, said Gyan Prakash Sharma, associate professor at Delhi University, who studies invasive plant species. Lantana camara, which is native to Central and South America, is believed to have been introduced in India and other countries across the world by British colonisers.
“The problem with lantana camara is that it kills native species of plants on which herbivores thrive,” Sharma said.
“These herbivores do not consume lantana because of certain chemical properties in it which has led to man-animal conflict,” he added.
Despite the problem becoming grave, solutions to manage lantana have not been effective.