While walking down a forest trail you come across this vibrantly colored conglomerate of flowers. Adorned by a variety of butterflies, the plant tangles its way to the forest canopy, spurs across the forest floor, and forms a thick blanket smothering other plants.
This shrub is called Lantana camara. It’s been cultivated for over 300 years and now has hundreds of cultivars and hybrids, together called as Lantana camara complex.
It was introduced to India in the 1800s as an ornamental plant. Its widespread success is because of its ecological tolerance. It occurs in diverse habitats and is dispersed by butterflies, thrips, fruit-eating birds, monkeys, bears, sunbirds, hummingbirds, etc.
Lantana can propagate vegetatively. The seeds from the small greenish blue-black globose fruits have better chances of germination once it passes through the digestive system of birds and animals
To have a sense of the scale Lantana invasion threatens 40% of India’s tiger habitat.
The Tamil Nadu Govt recently took up the herculean task of clearing Lantana from the core forest areas of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, Mudumalai National Park, and Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve on the pilot scale. The area to be covered is approximately 200 hectares.
Source: Sanjay Sawant /pexels.com/
The Lantana menace
The aggressive Lantana has found its place in IUCN’s list of world’s 100 most invasive species, and among the world’s 10 worst weeds. Fire and grazing have a rather positive effect on Lantana growth. The seed dormancy breaks when exposed to fire and the plant regenerates more vigorously.
Lantana’s success can be attributed to its allelopathic effect on other plants ( i.e release of chemicals to suppress the growth of native plants). Even grazing animals avoid unpalatable lantana. They contain a chemical called Triterpenoids which triggers hepatotoxicity and photosensitivity when eaten by sheep, goats, bovines, and horses.
However it’s not all dark and gloomy, Lantana has a huge industrial potential to be used in insect repellents, cosmetics, and medicine. They also raise soil fertility. And most importantly wherever Lantana flowers grow we have a mini butterfly park.
But from a cost-benefit point of view, the negative effect outweighs the positive.
Weed to wealth
We can conclude that Lantana cannot be eradicated, hence it has to be managed.
The focus needs to shift to Living with Lantana now. One such technique is adopted in the production of Lantana Furniture. Matured Lantana stems about 6 years old is used to craft stools, chairs, tables, bookshelves, sofa sets, cots, etc. It has now become a source of income for many tribals who live on the forest fringe. The artisans of the soliga community of Male Mahadeshwara Hills, Karnataka are one such success story of converting weed to wealth.
You can read more about the Lantana furniture project here https://www.deccanherald.com/spectrum/crafting-weed-wonder-666189.html
How can you take action individually?
Well by not getting mesmerized with the pretty Lantana flowers and say no to planting them in your garden spaces. Plant more native shrubs for the bees and butterflies.
It is a losing battle but has to begin somewhere. Let’s begin with your backyard.
- https://www.deccanchronicle.com/141230/nation-current-affairs/article/lantana-brings-lig ht-tamil-nadu-tribals-lives
- https://india.mongabay.com/2020/08/lantana-invasion-threatens-40-percent-of-indias-tige r-habitat-reports-study/
- https://www.gaonconnection.com/read/tamil-nadu-lantana-camara-plant-furniture-tribal-c ommunity-irula-tribe-development-coimbatore-wood-timber-industry-50554
- https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2022/mar/01/invasive-plants-to-be- removed-from-tn-forests-state-tells-madras-hc-2424922.html
- Negi, G., Sharma, S., Vishvakarma, S. C., Samant, S. S., Maikhuri, R. K., Prasad, R. C., & Palni, L. (2019). Ecology and use of Lantana camara in India. The Botanical Review, 85(2), 109-130.