Conocarpus trees, an exotic species native to tropical regions of the world, have recently come under scrutiny in Gujarat. Known for their rapid growth and low maintenance, these trees have been a popular choice for increasing the state’s green cover in recent years.
However, the Gujarat government has now banned the planting of these trees in both forest and non-forest areas due to their adverse impacts on the environment and human health.
The ban, which applies to both forest and non-forest areas, was announced in a circular issued on Tuesday by S K Chaturvedi, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force. The decision was made due to the adverse impacts of these trees on the environment and human health.
Conocarpus trees are known for their rapid growth and low maintenance, making them a popular choice among real estate developers. However, they have been found to cause significant damage to telecommunication lines, drainage systems, and freshwater resources due to their extensive root systems. Additionally, the pollen from these trees can trigger health issues such as colds, coughs, asthma, and allergies.
What are Conocarpus trees?
Conocarpus is a genus of two species of flowering plants in the family Combretaceae. One of these species, Conocarpus erectus, commonly known as buttonwood or button mangrove, is a mangrove shrub that grows on shorelines in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. These trees are characterized by their dense multiple-trunked shrubs or small to medium-sized trees that can grow from 1 to 20 meters tall.
Gujarat bans plantation of Conocarpus trees
In a circular dated September 26, the principal chief conservator of forests and head of forest force, S K Chaturvedi, stressed the importance of regulating the proliferation of the "unfamiliar species Conocarpus."
He stated, "Research reports have highlighted adverse impacts/disadvantages of this species on the environment and human health... Trees of this species flower in winter and spread pollen in nearby areas. It is learned that this is causing diseases like cold, cough, asthma, allergy, etc... Roots of this species go deep inside the soil and develop extensively, damaging telecommunication lines, drainage lines, and freshwater systems."
After years of advocacy by experts, the decision to ban Conocarpus trees was made due to their excessive water consumption, which could impact water tables. These trees hastened evaporation and obstructed drainage pipes with their roots, leading to the move. Experts also highlighted the tree's negative impact on human health, contributing to issues like coughs, colds, asthma, and respiratory disorders.
In recent years, government authorities and private companies favored Conocarpus for its rapid growth, heat tolerance, minimal freshwater requirements, and attractive flowers. It was also chosen for its ability to thrive with drainage and sewage water.
Furthermore, the fast growth of Conocarpus trees posed challenges, obstructing CCTV cameras, billboards, signage, hoardings, street lights, and electric wires. The frequent pruning required incurred substantial costs.
States ban harmful non-native trees
The move by the Gujarat government follows similar actions taken by other states. Telangana has also banned this plant species, while Delhi and Kerala have taken steps to control the growth of non-indigenous trees that were harming the local environment and flora and fauna due to their abundance.
In Delhi, the Vilayati Kikar (Prosopis juliflora), a non-native tree brought to the city by the British in the 1930s, was cleared from the Central Ridge after years of appeals and court cases by activists. The tree was found to deplete the water table of the area it was planted in and kill off native trees and fauna.
In Kerala, the British-introduced Eucalyptus tree was used as fuel in tea plantation boilers. However, a study found that foreign invasive plants had reduced the availability of fodder in forests, forcing animals to foray into settlements and farmlands. As a result, in 2018, the state forest department stopped the cultivation of acacia and eucalyptus in forest tracts.
These actions underscore the importance of protecting local ecosystems from invasive species and highlight the need for careful consideration when introducing non-native plants into an environment.
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