A village in Kerala has been witnessing a surge in tourist footfall amid the pandemic due to a peculiar reason — an invasive aquatic plant that has lent a scenic attraction to this otherwise nondescript location.
Spread over a vast area in Kozhikode’s Avala Pandi near Perambra, considered a paddy bowl of northern Kerala, the pink flowering plant named Forked Fanwort, which belongs to the family of Cabombaceae, has attracted widespread interests among social media users. It is locally known as ‘mullan payal’ and is native to South America.
Due to a steady surge in the number of tourists, several small-scale vendors have turned up in the area to earn some money out of this ‘pink bloom’ phenomenon. The location has also emerged as a pitstop for several candidates running for the upcoming local body polls in the state, canvassing for votes.
Botanist Dr. P Dileep told ieMalayalam that the plant belongs to the family of Cabombaceae and has thorny leaves.
Although the tiny village is brimming with tourists, he, however, sounded a word of caution. “Although these invasive plants appear attractive, they pose a serious threat to water bodies. Like African algae, these plants multiply fast in a geometric progression,” Dr P Dileep said, pointing out that they may be from aquarium escapes.
“If anyone is collecting these plants from Avala, they must make sure to grow it only inside an aquarium. If it slips into water bodies or paddy fields, there could be large-scale destruction,” he added.
The plants flower with the aid of sunlight. The flowers start blooming from 11 am onwards and as the sunlight becomes stronger, they appear in a more dazzling fashion. As the sunlight fades toward the evening, the flowers begin to wilt too.
Dr Dileep also attributed the scale of the growth of the plant in Avala to the pandemic, reasoning that fewer people may have stepped into the narrow canals, leading to its sprawling spurt. This phenomenon was first spotted in Avala Pandi last year, but did not turn out to be this visually appealing as the growth was limited.
M Kunjahammed, former president of the Perambra block panchayat, said, “In earlier years, the plants used to flow away with the flow of the water. Now, with no movement in the water, the plants have grown widely. Towards the end of December, when fields are readied for cultivation and the canals are opened, it will flow out into the river.”
Retd professor E Kunjikrishnan, an environmentalist, warned that the invasive species spotted in Avala could pose a threat in future to the entire water-ecosystem of Kerala.
“The wide growth of such foreign invasive species is a serious threat to native plant species, fish species and dragonflies. Urgent steps must be taken by the administration. The local panchayat must lead from the front and conduct studies on whether this phenomenon is being seen in other nearby panchayats. Such areas must be classified as ‘containment zones’ so that the spread of the species can be curtailed. Our inability to restrict the growth of the common water hyacinth is before us. The result is that as we spend crores of rupees to clear the hyacinth on one side, we are losing precious native biodiversity on the other side,” he said.
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