Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When a Good Plant Becomes Bad

Last fall we took a trip to Bandipur National Park in southern India.  My last post showed some of the wildlife I saw there, but, as a gardener, the trip was also a small treasure hunt to find and photograph some of the native flora.


I saw several Gloriosa lilies, growing wild in their native habitat.  


I think this is Thorny Nightshade.  Looks rather unfriendly, doesn't it?

Thorny Nightshade, aka. Solanum virginianum
I'm not sure what these little bell shaped flowers are called.  They remind me a little of petunias.


Mostly, though, I saw Lantana.  
Lots
and lots
of Lantana.

Lantana camara growing everywhere, including up onto trees.
Oh, I thought, Lantana must be native here!

Nope. 
It's from parts of Central and South America.  Lantana was only introduced into India in the early 1800's (as an ornamental shrub, of course).

Lantana camara
Even though butterflies love it, it is a huge detriment to other wildlife.  
It's leaves and flowers contain toxins that make it inedible to herbivores, and it also spread rapidly and chokes out the native plants, so there's less food for plant-eaters.

Lantana towering over the elephants at Bandipur National Park
 It's such a problem, that the decline of herbivores is also becoming a threat to the population of tigers and other carnivores in these protected wildlife and tiger reserves.

It's even hard for some of the large animals to make their way through the overgrown thickets of Lantana! 

Herd of elephants wading through the Lantana
Outside of the wildlife reserves, it's also affected people's livelihood, as Lantana takes over crop and pasture land.  Many of the efforts to get rid of it has failed.

Do you see the peacock hiding behind the Lantana?
Forest departments and other agencies are doing their best to manage this weed, uprooting it and planting native plants.  They are also researching ways to use Lantana, such as building furniture from it, in order to help the livelihood of the people in the local communities.  If life gives you lemons, try to make some lemonade, right?

But, really, after seeing the amount of Lantana, I feel bad for the forest agencies who are facing an uphill battle.

Lantana is growing up giant Bamboo mounds at Bandipur National Park.
I'll say this -
after seeing Lantana in India... 

'Chapel Hill Yellow' Lantana quietly growing in my old North Carolina garden.
Is it really making plans to escape?
I'll never look at it in a garden quite the same way again!

26 comments:

  1. yes Lantana makes me nervous. It is invasive in South Africa too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems to be a problem in a lot of countries around the world. That is one invasive plant! In most of the U.S. it is too cold for it to spread much, but in more tropical parts like Florida it is a problem. The invasive Lantana camara is taking over, while their native Lantana variety is becoming endangered.

      Delete
  2. Oh my gosh, I had no idea! How can such a wonderful plant here cause so much trouble there? Of course I know the answer, but it makes me glad I'm living in a place where it dies back. I guess we feel the same way about Garlic Mustard or Kudzu or Japanese Knotweed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True! I have lived in both Georgia and North Carolina, land of Kudzu. (Believe it or not, you can buy a variegated cultivar of Kudzu now from a specialty nursery - if you promise to never ever plant it outside!)

      Delete
  3. Wow, unbelievable that such a lovely flower can cause so much harm.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is rather crazy - such a large amount of what is really a pretty looking plant, but it's so bad for the native ecosystem. I guess that is how these things spread - people in other countries want this beautiful shrub and then it spreads and gets out of hand.

      Delete
  4. I suppose the right plant in the right position would never cause any problems, but the last 2-300 years we have kept introducing plants into other parts of the world that were never meant to grow there. That’s why we have so many wonderful flowers here in Britain – but you have highlighted the possible problems that comes with this too. Not easy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As travel has become so common and widespread, it is amazing how ecosystems have changed just in the last couple of centuries. Between plants running rampant and bugs and other wildlife spreading to new strange and new countries and continents, I feel for all the local wildlife.

      Delete
  5. Oh, my! I knew that lantana could grow quite large in areas where there is no freezes to set it back, but I had no idea!!! The picture of the herd "lost" in the lantana is incredible, and shows the problem quite well! Interesting that they are thinking of making furniture out of it. I love lantana in my garden, but this shows the folly of introducing some plants outside of their native habitat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had no idea it could get that big either, until I saw it! What I thought was a shrub turned into a climber!

      Delete
  6. How fascinating and sad. I applaud the forest department etc for trying to make something from this thug of a weed (I can't believe I am writing this about Lantana). Let's hope they succeed in finding a good use for it. I am actually quite shocked by this post. Well done for highlighting the problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was shocked, too, when I found out what a problem Lantana was. It's always talked of as such a great butterfly plant here! I also found out that they are having trouble with Lantana camara down in Florida as well - it's taking over and Florida's native Lantana variety is becoming endangered.

      Delete
  7. I have always liked Lantana, only ever seen it on my visits to Spain where they seemed to keep it in check. Unfortunately it doesn't take to the UK climate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it definitely likes warm weather. Even in North Carolina, there were only a couple varieties that were perennial. And here they are breeding more cold hardy varieties - now I'm thinking that maybe they shouldn't!

      Delete
  8. Hi Indie
    Because the world grows "smaller" all the time (with people travelling all over the place), plants, bugs and pests come home with them. Not quite the case with Lantana but similar. Wild picture of the shrub being taller than the elephants!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true. So many different plants and bugs have moved around and ecosystems are changing so rapidly!

      Delete
  9. It's really a shame that it's taking over India. But as you say, an evil plant in one place can be a very good plant in another. I just came back from the Caribbean (I know, how annoying) and couldn't believe the size and profusion of Crotons and other plants that are definitely houseplants here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, that sounds like a great trip! I'll bet that was fun to see all the tropical plants there!

      Delete
  10. Lantana is one of my favorite annuals, but I had no idea it could be invasive in some places! Another example of the wrong plant in the wrong place, like kudzu. I've often wished I could grow it as a perennial as some varieties do in warmer zones, but now I think I'll be happy mine doesn't get any taller than a foot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does make me glad it's an annual here - I certainly don't want it taking over my garden like that!

      Delete
  11. Oh, how sad. I love it here, but it dies when it gets cold. I suppose we learn these lessons the hard way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a constant battle - we bring in these beautiful plants, but they might not be compatible for every ecosystem.

      Delete
  12. Plants are so much more complicated than we realize, one place they are fine, another they devastate a community. I never knew Lantana could be so bad, but you are right, butterflies love it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure the butterflies love it there, too, just sadly at the detriment of other species!

      Delete
  13. It is amazing how such a much loved plant can be so harmful halfway around the world. So sad really. Your nightshade looks like my eggplants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that it is in that family, along with potatoes. When I was trying to identify what it was, I kept thinking, I've seen a flower like that before!

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...