Friday, February 1, 2013

Love in a puff

Love in a puff or Balloon plant (Cardiospermum halicacabum), is a climbing plant commonly found in Madanapalle and NP Kunta.
Flower and unripe fruits of Cardiospermum halicacabum.
Matured seeds in the puffed&balloon shaped bags.

Cardiospermum is a genus which are native to the American, Indian, and African tropics. The genus name is derived from the Greek words cardio, meaning "heart," and sperma, meaning "seed."

White heart-shaped mark on spherical seeds of Cardiospermum halicacabum

It is a very famous herb in Tamilnadu India, in treating rheumatoid, joint pain, skin diseases and intestinal inflammation.

Forest fires

Rings of fire are a common sight each year during February and March on the hill sides in our semi-arid area. What initially start as small fires develop, aided by the wind and dry vegetation, quickly into ‘wild fires’ that destroy everything in their path. It is one of the main causes for the decrease of fuel, fodder and NTFP resources on common lands on which rural communities are dependent.  During discussions with the community regarding the occurrence of fire, it was evident that fires have been a recurring problem for several decades. In earlier times (25 years back), fire was common in the area. However, the occurrence has increased now and fires have become very frequent.

Fire at the initial stage.(Photo- Shreerang Hegde)

Fires harm the environment in many ways:

In addition to destroying vegetation, insect, bird and animal (snakes, mongoose) life is also harmed.
Bare hill sides are not able to soak up the rain water, resulting in runoff which causes soil erosion. Fire releases greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and changing climate.

Major causes of fire:
•    Lack of awareness regarding the damage caused to the environment by fire.
•    Our area has a prolonged dry season and grasses on the hill sides that dry up after the monsoon are an easily combustible material.
•    Setting fire to forests as a means to encourage the growth of pasture is still widespread.
•    NTFP harvesters light fire during the collection of forest products to make way with in the densely grown patches of grass and shrubs.
•    Fire also occurs due to human negligence, particularly through cigarette ends thrown.
•    Fire set on farmlands, to clear agricultural residues, sometimes spreads into the forest.
•    Villagers and shepherds believe that fire helps to escape from some diseases.
•    Burning logs left behind by people after brewing liquor in the forest.
•    Charcoal making in the forest.
•    Decline in demand for Cymbopogon grass to construct roofs of houses.
Changes in the life style- from Cybopogon grass to concrete roofed houses

How fire impacts the ecosystem and dependent communities?

•    Fire destroys vegetation and prevents regeneration of forests.
•    Frequent fires aid in the spread of fast growing invasive species (Lantana camara and Pterolobium indicum) that rapidly colonize the bare areas.
•    Fire destroys original forests resulting in highly degraded ecosystems with low levels of biodiversity and biomass (green manure, fodder, fiber, fruit, medicinal plants etc.) Fire in our dry deciduous ecosystems causes the replacement of the diverse native vegetation with a few fire resisting trees and grass.
•    Loss of various Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) has a bearing on the economy of the communities that make income during the year from these forest resources.
•    In spite of the belief that burning organic matter enriches soil, the ashes which contribute to fertilization are often blown away by wind or are lost by leaching after the first rains.
•    Large patches of lands are left bare of vegetation, allowing the soil to be eroded and the underlying rock to show through.
•    These fire resisting trees (Dolichandrone atrovirens) are the only survivors because of the thickness of their bark.
•    Forest fires are an ecological disaster. In our region which experiences an intense summer followed by a rainless monsoon, the soils are prone to degradation.
•    During fire, the temperatures reached at the surface of the soil are very high. This completely destroys the humus, the soil micro-organisms and the soil structure, rendering the soil useless as a growing medium.
Large patches of lands are left bare of vegetation and the underlying rock to show through.

First shower after the fire takes of ashes and the burnt soil from the hills and the underlying rock to show through.