Kashmir is familiar with this annual event that has now turned into a serious problem
DR TARIQ HUSSAIN MASOODI
For a few days - late April to ending May - poplar fluff floats through the air and drifts over our atmosphere and the sidewalks.
This "fluff" is actually poplar seeds that are produced by the female trees of this species. Most allergists agree that real culprit is not the fluff but the pollen of native grasses and other plants that is released in the atmosphere just as the poplars are seeding. Poplar trees also produce pollen, but it is produced by the male trees in early spring i.e. long before the fluff season. Cutting down all the female poplar trees at a time thus won't cure your pollen allergy. However we can not be ignorant to the health and other socio-economic hazards of the fluff produced in large quantities in Kashmir that too when our tourist season starts peaking. Besides being eye irritant, the fluff pollutes air, reduces visibility and clogs car radiators and evaporative coolers in the vehicles. It badly affects people suffering from respiratory problems. It is due to these factors that female cultivar of cottonwood trees are banned for mass plantations in some residential areas of developed countries. In Kashmir we need phased removal of these female cultivars and replace them with fast growing male/sterile trees.
Identifying the problem
Poplar is one of the ten most prominent species of the our State and comprises around 15 million trees grown as rural and urban plantations. P. deltoides constitute a dominant position (80%) and contributes around 90% of the total volume realized from all other poplars. Locally known as “Rousee fras” a major proportion of the trees of this species in Kashmir are female cultivars. Since production of timber for construction and making packing crates are the two main objectives for cultivating this poplar, the species is managed for long gestation periods of 15- 20 years in Kashmir (unlike Punjab- with a rotation period of 8-10 years), these plantations enter the reproductive phase and produce large quantities of cottony (fluffy) seed that acts as a pollutant in the atmosphere and hampers the normal life in rural and urban areas of the Kashmir. The problem has become so severe from the last few years, that there is a large scale public concern to decrease/remove all the female trees of this species which; at present, perhaps seems to be impractical owing to the popularity of this species with respect to its fast growth and other environmental benefits viz. carbon sequestration potential.
• Considering the advantages; the poplar species offer, the only way to come out of this trouble seems to plant fast growing male clones and remove the female ones gradually. The collection of local male germplasm will play an important role to achieve this objective. As a good news for the interested stakeholders the Faculty of Forestry SKUAST of Kashmir has started a research program (at Doctorate level) to collect, screen, evaluate and produce best and fast growing seedlings of this species for mass multiplication and future planting. The Faculty has also imported some male clones of P. deltoides from WIMCO (Ltd) Haryana. These clones are also being evaluated to screen the best and fastest growing clones for this region.
• There are reports that many poplars (hybrids) have never produced flowers and thus are thought to be sterile. This is an advantage for some areas of this valley where planting of female poplars can be prohibited. These hybrids (Populus spp.) are the result of natural and manmade crosses among poplar species. For instance Populus x Smithii a natural hybrid between P. tremuloides and P. grandidentata does not produce seeds. Introduction of such hybrids in appropriate habitats can thus be one of the best strategies to overcome fluff and pollen problem in Kashmir. To begin with we should replace these trees from the urban areas and replace them with other flowering plants from the time that starts now. However, in rural areas, no removal program should be planned and implemented in a haste unless production of seedlings of hybrid sterile/ male is not prioritized in reputable nurseries for mass plantation.
• The transportation of poplars from nurseries in rural areas for out-planting in residential areas of urban settlements community parks and street roads should be completely banned with immediate effect.
• Fortunately, there is a method of reducing the cotton load in poplar trees by chemical treatments. Overhead sprays with ethephon herbicide such as Florel while the tree is in bloom can eliminate the blossoms before the cotton and seeds develop. However using ethephon is not practical for treating large cottonwood trees which attain a height of 40 -80 ft.
• If your area experiences high fluff production, never allow to accumulate fluff at one place as there will be a possibility of fire hazard.
Besides above measures, the Government of Jammu & Kashmir needs to devise a “Regional Action Plan for poplars”. The Key Proposals in this action plan should focus on :
• Map, record and monitor the localities of all poplars within the Kashmir so as to maintain their genetic diversity.
• Establish permanent nurseries across the State and produce quality planting material of known and veriﬁed origin.
• Establish a procedure for recording the origins and placement of recently planted trees.
• Launch a campaign to replace the female cultivar by fast growing male clone produced in reputable nurseries.
• Avoid planting; especially dense stands, where ever inappropriate, e.g. areas where such planting will undermine the historical value of the site.
• Encourage various agencies (Social Forestry/ farmers and NGO’s) to undertake scientific management of poplar trees and their habitats. Management of canopy through regular pruning of poplar trees in the late autumn will the best way to reduce production of reproductive buds and limit seed production.
• Encourage the publication of material to raise the proﬁle of the species.
• Encourage establishment of poplar wood based entrepreneurship and for this the Govt. should help to set up modern industrial units viz. veneer industry, paper and pulp industry and biomass based heat and electricity generation industry. These industries require raw material from juvenile trees and hence we can harvest poplar trees before they enter into the reproductive phase. It is pertinent to mention that our neighboring States viz. Punjab and Haryana have more poplars than that reported from Kashmir. Both these States do not experience cotton seed menace as they harvest poplars at the juvenile age and use the raw material for making paper and veneers for plywood.
• Finally seek funding for these initiatives from Forestry Commission or National/ International poplar commission.
(The author is a professor in the Faculty of Forestry SKUAST-K, Shalimar, Srinagar. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lastupdate on : Tue, 28 May 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 28 May 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 29 May 2013 00:00:00 IST
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