“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

Is The White Fuzzy “Cotton” Blanketing the Valley a Pollen?

by | Jun 15, 2013 | Blog

Majeed says contrary to the impression spread by uninformed media, the popular cotton (“phrast phump”) in not pollen

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 66, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)

Seeds Not Pollen

Locally called as Phrast Phumb (Poplar cotton), poplars were
cultivated on war footing basis, a few decades ago both by the Social
Forestry department as well as by the locals because of its rapid
growth. It is abundantly grown being a cash crop everywhere on road
sides, around educational institutions and wherever there is
availability of even a small space, it is planted by the social
forestry. It is grown near margins of all our water bodies; large
chunks of Wular Lake, around and interiors of Dal Lake, Anchar and
Hokher Sar lakes have been converted into thickets. Many of our
precious water bodies like Waskur, Mirgund, Naran Bagh lakes and
Narkara wetland are now no more or exist in their remnants. They have
been converted into land masses by the cultivation of either willows
or Russian poplars resulting in the near extinction of all our
precious water bodies.

The growth of many local poplars like Kashur phrass, Punjaeb Phress
and Dude’ phrast, is normal and not so rapid, are environment friendly
with multidimensional benefits and are more economic in totality. For
the past two or more decades, they have been under the threat of
extinction due to overpopulation of Russian poplars whose figure is in
millions. Russian poplar, scientifically called as Populus ciliate is
considered as endemic to Asia. We have about five species of poplars
growing in Kashmir, and for the past few years more hybrids have been
introduced in the valley, correct identification of which is
difficult. Poplars have separate sexes, either male or female plants,
seeds are mortal, even if produced, but its viability is short just
for a few days. So the plants are raised by cuttings (branches) in a
damp or near marshy places till it develops roots and are sold and
transplanted later on. Pollen grains are the male gamete carriers
while Phrast Phumb is the Seed produced by the female plants and is
not pollen. So to call it as pollen is incorrect.

In the valley, early spring or beginning summer is the climax season
of shedding enormous pollens and seeds, many plants shed their pollen
in huge quantity that causes a hazardous atmosphere throughout the
valley. Pollens are tiny particles mostly invisible to the naked eye.
They can be easily inhaled through mouth or nose as they are
abundantly present in the air, or even many types of pollens adhere
and get stick on the pores of the exposed human body parts.

Ordinarily, the introduction of a foreign substance into the body
tissues causes the immune system to create antibodies to neutralize
the threat and protect against any subsequent invasion by the same
intruder. These antibodies are glycoproteins and are called as called
Immunoglobulins. Each Ig antibody is specific for one particular
allergen. In case of pollen allergy, the antibody is specific for each
type of pollen, causing a lot of irritation and various ailments. Many
men and women and mostly infants are more susceptible to these
allergies and suffer from many respiratory and other skin diseases.
Poplar cotton is not pollen; it is a natural process of shedding seeds
through the wind. This seed dispersal mechanism is scientifically
called as Censor mechanism. The non viable seeds of poplars are
naturally embedded in a roll or bed of fibres or plush, to make them
light so as to float along with the wind currents to far distances. It
is not the case of Poplars only. Hundreds of other plants have the
similar kind of seed dispersal mechanism. The best example is our
Maidan Hund (Taraxcum officinale) having fibres arranged in an
umbrella fashion, making seeds very light and are flown to the far
distances from their parent plants by air currents.

The existing problem of this dispersal is that the production is so
enormous, it seems to a person as if it is snowing particularly in
Srinagar city, around Bemina and along all road sides of all routes
and national highway. Seeds are directly inhaled through mouth or nose
and causes a lot of irritation to the mucous membrane of respiratory
tract and if it is deposited somewhere in the trachea, it may cause
complicated problems in the throat and even lungs. No scientific work
has been carried out till date with regard to the harmful effects of
these fibres or even by non viable seeds, but one gets suffocated and
irritated when these seeds are inhaled.

It is a significant step in the history of the state taken by Deputy
Commissnor Srinagar, prohibiting DFOs of social forestry and urban
forest department under section 133, (Srinagar area only) not to
cultivate further saplings of Russian poplars. But what about millions
of saplings particularly sold in Batamaloo Bus Stand area during early
spring. There should be total ban of selling and cultivation of such
hazardous plants. Strict orders are needed to uproot them immediately
particularly for the city people where these hazardous plants are
cultivated even in kitchen gardens. No doubt it is commercially
important cash plant, utilised in poor construction work, Ply wood
industry, Match sticks industries fake and duplicate furniture
industries, paper industry, package boxes for transportation of dry
and fleshy fruits etc. Recently its bark has also been utilised
medicinally, but its demerits exceed its utilisation particularly when
human lives are at stake. People and schoolchildren prone to allergies
by poplar cotton should restrict their movement and should use masks
or wet handkerchiefs even when they stay at home or outside. White
travelling in vehicles, windows should be closed to prevent entry of
this seed mass as prevention is far better than cure.