Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thickets of Thorn - Prosopis juliflora

Thickets of Thorn - Prosopis juliflora

The Thorns are creating trouble for the soft padded Tiger

(A plant species from Mexico - which has invaded and grown cancerously in and around Ranthambhore is an unseen threat to the tiger. If not treated in time, it will become a invincible. .. A discussion with Jogi on Prosopis juliflora... )

After taking a holy bath from Kumbh mela Jogi returned a cleansed and recharged soul.

He took a safari with Ranthambhore’s crazy people to enlighten them, although people were apprehensive to go along with him but who could have refused our Jogi.

Finally the safari began, seated in gypsy were - Fateh Singhji, Balendu Singhji, Dicky, Dharmendra, myself while Raees was our driver.

However, the gypsy got punctured near the Guda chowki! And had no Stepney in it. Fathji said, “If Shameem’s vehicles had Stepney in them the world would have been a different place”.

Raees’s devil’s advocate Dharmendra said, this is due to the juliflora thorns, what’s his fault?

Fathji said, “Yaar vehicle getting punctured is okay, but he should keep Stepney at least?!”

Balendu Singhji was the wisest and he took the opportunity to mould the discussion towards a meaningful direction in order to pass the time . ..

Balendu Singhji asked, “How did it invade the state of Rajasthan?”

Raees in the meanwhile went to the chowki to get some aid.

Jogi said, “I shall tell you about juliflora – juliflora’s story is Romantic.”

All of us looked amused as Jogi speaking romance was new to our ears!

Jogi looked at Fathji and asked, “Can there be a relation between a shrub and romance Fathji?” Fathji looked at Jogi but it felt as if he was just looking through him and had actually gone in his distant past.. .

Jogi shrugged Fathjis shoulder but then without waiting he started speaking himself...

He said, Jodhpurs darbar (Ruler)Maharaja Hanmant Singh was an handsome man.. strong in built and soft at heart.

He was ambitious and always had a special interest in bringing out new technologies. In the 40’s and 50’s he had an aircraft, which he piloted himself.

He was peoples person and a very liked ruler of his time.. . there came a time when he fell in love with someone. Her name was Zubeida. He would take utmost care of Zubeida.. .

In the summers he would take Zubeida from the hot desert area of Jodhpur to Rajasthan’s highest peak area – Mount Abu.

Blinded in love Hanumant Singh wanted to do something extraordinary for his love, at the same time Zubeida would keep testing his love for her.. .

While in Mt. Abu, some Maharajas from Gujarat state were with them, as the royal guests, the Maharaj of Gujarat talked about how in the Kutch and the Dang jilla (region) Prosopis juliflora was been forested.

At that time Zubeida told Hanumant Singhji, that the area they would fly between Mt. Abu and Jodhpur was very dry and barren and some greenification should be done there too.

On this, Hanumant Singhji started the plantation work and the love struck Raja wanted to please his lover very soon; for this he did aerial spraying of the P. juliflora seeds for which he did back and forth rides in the area several times.. .

In 10-15 years this place was green and a thicket developed in that area.. the Jodhpur darbar went on to declare juliflora as a wonder tree and it was banned from being cut, burnt or removed.

This was the first exotic species invasion in the state of Rajasthan which got uplift from a very big ruler...

I said, “then this is very good, a dry state like Rajasthan getting green!”

Jogi nodded his head and said, “Yes, all is green but just green is of what use? Its leaves are filled with poison which makes it inedible for any animal, stems have huge nail like thorns making it impossible to walk through it for any animal or human alike, the roots have the power to suck extra nutrients and water from the soil making other trees impossible to grow where it stays.”

Dicky asked Jogi, “How did this pest invade Ranthambhore?”

Jogi said, “it was restricted to just Marwar in times of Hanumant Singhji – but it was spread by the Forest Department of Rajasthan – in their Greenifation of Aravalli scheme. For this they got funds from the Japan Government – crores of rupees were given by Japan governemnt for ecology restoration and since Rajasthan is a dry state juliflora was chosen for fast and successful plantation. The Forest department made a new department and new buildings were erected too and this plantation drive was started as the Aravalli project”

Jogi said, if you want to know more about the juliflora here is more information...

About the plant : Prosopis juliflora (Swartz)

Family: Leguminosae

A large shrub or a small, evergreen, armed tree, branches long, with thorns. Pods linear, compressed, straight or often falcate, indehiscent, 0.8-1cm, Seeds 20-25, compressed, ovoid.

Flo.and Fr.: Almost throughout the year.

Favorable Climatic condition: A hot dry climate, mild winter, low rainfall and clear atmosphere are said to suit it best.

Incidentally the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve provides the mesquite with all these favorable conditions.

- Prosopis juliflora is weed that degrades the natural ecosystem of the park.

- A notorious plant species that crosses the physical boundary of the park and enters into the prime habitat of the Tiger.

- P. juliflora covers more then 60 Sq.Km. of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve .

- Prime Tiger Habitat is then converted into dense impenetrable thickets of the mesquite.


Its a Native plant of Mexico. In 1879 its seeds were bought from Kew, England and introduced in the Sholapur district of Maharashtra.

In 1894, Large-scale plantations were carried out in the Pabbi Hills in Gujarat – this was the first trial of Forest Department.

In 1913-14 it was introduced in Jodhpur as a part of highly successful afforestation scheme.

And in 1976-78, it was introduced in Ranthambhore Tiger reserve, Plantation Scheme known as Rawara Plantation.

How does it disperse ?

Biotic agents, especially ungulates are the principal agents for the seed dispersal in the park.Dropping analysis of the different animals shows that following animals are the primary agents………

1.Antelopes (Blue bull & Chinkara).

2. Porcupine

3.Grazing cattle of outskirts.

These animals are fond of the P.juliflora pods. By eating the pods and excreting its seed helps to spread the plant further in the park.

Ungulates are the natures agent in spreading the juliflora seeds in the area

Survival Strategy of juliflora –

Leaves of the mesquite are not edible due to the presence of strong alkaloid's. However the pods are full of sugar, attracting ungulates and other animals to consume them, thereby causing their dispersal.

The sweet tasting pods attract the ungulates and other animals and they disperse the seeds through their droppings.. .

Impact on Native Flora

Grows very fast in comparison with the native flora. It crowds out the local plant species.

Chemicals of fallen leaves prohibits growth of any other plant species, especially fodder grasses for ungulates.

Well developed root system, absorbs extra nutrients, other plants in the vicinity cannot compete and grow.

Soft padded animals like the Tigers are easy victims of juliflora thorns...

Impact on Fauna

1. Highly susceptible thorns. The Mesquite infested area is inaccessible for the Tiger and other animals. Many birds have not yet learnt to tackle these alien thorns. Generally, they never nest in this tree.

2. Leaves of P.juliflora upsets the digestive system of ungulates.(because of the presence of strong alkaloids in leaves). Pods of the mesquite, which the ungulates relish, dislocate their jaw, thus reducing grazing efficiency.

3. This plant has been encroaching on the foraging grounds of the crane in areas such as Gilai Sagar and Mansagar lake.

4. Lewis and Elwin Lewis (1977) reported that ingestion over a period of time results in death of cattle.

5. Kingsbury (1964) Mesquite poisoning may induce a permanent impairment of the ability to digest cellulose.

6. Lewis and Elwin Lewis (1977) reported that pollen grains may cause allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma, and hypersensitivity.

These thorns are as nasty as iron nails.. .

Uses of the Mesquite

1. P.juliflora is a chief source of fuel wood for the rural areas around the park. Use of the mesquite as a fuel wood, is the only known use. Some times it is also used for charcoal production.

2. Wood of the mesquite cannot be stored for a long time without chemical treatment unlike other species, so it has low furniture wood value.

3. Few people claim that it’s a great source of honey, gum, flour, fodder and wood but these are not yet popular. On the other hand it is detrimental to the native flora and fauna, thus making it very expensive in the overall picture.

The red clusters show the spread of juliflora in and around Ranthambhore

Magnitude of P. juliflora in the park

A. Monoculture of P. juliflora

1. BherawandaKhurd to Khandar to Sanwata. (1.5 x 30 km. long strip) = 45 sq.kms

2. Other areas (Amershwar, Sherpur, Bhadlav et. ) = 15 Sq.Km.

B. Individual scattered Plant - approx 1,50,000 trees

Management of juliflora

Their are two safe methods of eradication of the P.juliflora:

1. Monoculture stage can be eradicated mechanically.

(Excavator machine= JCB).

2. Single plant and sapling stage can be removed manually.

Caution :

- it is very important that root system or root part should not remain.

- Regeneration of eradicated plant should be regularly monitored in the operated area.

”Balendu Singhji said, “scientists and ecologists have strong negative opinions on invasive species and we understand your point Jogiji, but what next?”

If Hanumant Singhji was aware of this problem he would have also made the efforts to eradicate the juliflora even if it was the source of happiness for his lover Zubeida as he was a tough headed man , but the forest officials who ARE aware of this sprouting issue keep their eyes conveniently closed...

Jogi replied, “The government should use schemes like Mahatma Gandhi Rojgar Gaurantee Yojana and people like Fathji should be made the governing body as he has the experience and knowledge, about it all. In fact there was a water hyacinth problem in Bharatput years ago when Fathji was the Field Director there and all birds had stopped coming. He successfully eradicated the pest weeds from the water...

Similar efforts and dedication is needed in Ranthambhore...

And there came Raees bhai panting, rolling a spare tyre he got from somewhere... A tough jungle man - he said, these nasty thorns can pierce into tough radial tyres imagine, what distress they cause to the tigers soft paws - He too can understand the simple logic but not the forest department perhaps.. .