Jhapa district in eastern Nepal is frequently in news for the dangerous rampage of wild elephants crossing the border from India. Now the district has made headlines again for the intrusion of an invasive vine that is dangerous for the local plants including crops and grown up trees. Locally known as Lahare Banmara (forest destroying vine), this creeper is notorious for rapid growth and stifling the local plants. Also known as mile-a-minute plant for its fast spreading, mikania micrantha can grow up to 90 millimetres within the span of 24 hours. For this reason, no existing plant in the surrounding can compete with it in growth and food absorption. Under its suffocating colonisation, the local plants cannot survive, grow and thrive. It is not only the low lying bushes and shrubs that are under threat. The invasive creeper can climb trees and eventually kill them.
Believed to have come from South America, this alien weed is taking its serious toll on the local bio-diversity. It made its first appearance around two decades ago in Chitwan and caused a big loss to the famous rhino grasslands, trees, bushes and even crops. Chitwan is still under its assault and the creeper is spreading to other districts. It is reported that this invasive vine has now spread to 30 districts of the country. Its flowers are easily carried by wind and it is feared that it will engulf all areas that have suitable climate for its growth. Its intrusion in Jhapa shows that the usual westerly wind is fast spreading it towards the eastern region of the country. It can similarly spread its colony towards western Terai. Given the gradual increase of temperatures in the hills, its invasion may not be limited in the Terai plains alone in the future.
When this dangerous creeper stifles and destroys the forests, it will have serious impacts on the livelihood of the people and the local economy. When the local plants come under survival threat, generation of important forest resources such as cattle fodder, firewood, thatch grass and timber will suffer. Destruction of the forest resources will have negative impacts on the local ecosystem and environmental health. Wild animals feeding on grass will face a challenge to survive. In the natural food chain, population decline of prey animals will affect the predators such as tigers and leopards. In a situation of dwindling grasslands and forest cover, rhinos and wild elephants will turn their attention to the farmlands and settlements. This will surely lead to increased human-wildlife conflict.
A news dispatch from Jhapa said that the bio-diversity of Pathivara-Kalika Community Forest is under serious assault of mikania micrantha. Local user committees are working hard to root out and control the spread of the invasive creeper, but it has proved to be a difficult job. The seeds of the vine can stay dormant in soil for a long time and grow back. The weeding has to be carried out before the growth of flowers and seeds. The vine is not palatable to cattle and so cannot be fed to them. As grass and green fodder are under threat, livestock farming can be badly affected.