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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sonchus oleraceous: A rare medicinal weed

Sonchus oleraceous is delicate and beautiful plant. It is traditionally known all over the world for its nutritional and medicinal values. However, with increasing habitat destruction and pollutions this plant is currently living under stressed conditions that may push it towards extinction. The word Sonchus refers to hollow stem and Oleraceous refers to the delectable nature. It has medicinal properties similar to that of Dandelion and Succory. Leaves are used in salad in some parts of the world. Sonchus oleraceous belongs to family Asteraceae- the family of Daisy.

Habit and Habitat
Sonchus oleraceous is an erect annual or biennial herb that grows 30-110 cm high. It exudes latex if damaged. The plant used to grow during winter in India about a decade ago but now it is found the year round. It grows in moist soil in fields, pastures along roadsides, gardens and edges of yards, construction sites, waste land and disturbed areas. It is considered that this plant is adapted to a number of environments and grows well at low and high elevations in the tropics. It often grows in irrigated lands (Holm et al., 1997).
Weber, 2003 has reported that it is a wide spread weed. It is invasive in natural habitats as it grows in dense patches that crowd our native plants. However, it is rare in India and cannot be considered as invasive here. It is a shade tolerant pioneer plant species which establishes itself in disturbed areas.

Wagner et al. 1999 have reported that it is naturalized in a variety of habitats in Hawaii. Smith has reported that this plant is naturalized in clearings and cultivated areas and along forest trails up to 900m from sea level in Fiji. In New Guinea it is a weed of gardens and crop fields.

The Plant
The plant Sonchus oleraceous is an annual plant. It is herb, tap rooted, rhizomatous or stolonoferous. The stem is erect, branched, and glabrous. Leaves are basal and cauline, peteolate, petioles usually winged, and blades oblong, oblanceolate, margins dentate or prickly. Inflorescence is head born in corymbiform to sub-umbelliform. Involucres are companulate, apices acute; receptacles are flat to convex, glabrous. Corollas are yellow or orange. Flowers are hermaphrodite, commonly pollinated by bees and flies. These are Heads with strap-shaped flowers, several on sometimes glandular stalks in an open, flat- or round-topped inflorescence, relatively small, commonly 1.5-2.3 cm wide in flower; involucres 9-14 mm tall; involucral bracts lanceolate, tapering to a slender tip at the apex, glabrous except for some spreading, gland-tipped hairs; ray flowers yellow. Fruits are  achenes reddish-brown, strongly compressed, ovoid, lateral margins very thin with narrow wing; 0.08-0.1 in. (2-3 mm) long, 1 mm wide; light brown. 3 (rarely 4 or 5) prominent ridges on the face of the fruit, smooth between ridges. Pappus often tangled and holding several achenes in a cluster; more or less deciduous. A single plant may produce up to 8,000 seeds. Seed is able to germinate all year round over a broad range of temperatures and is favored by light, with emergence highest in seed present on the soil surface. Resistance to herbicides such as chlorsulfuron and atrazine has led to Sowthistles, including Sonchus oleraceous, being the target of biological control programs overseas and in Australia. Preliminary surveys for suitable control agents found two potential organisms: a rust fungus and eriophyid mite. 

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Sonchus spp. is pioneer species, invading natural habitats and disturbed sites (Zollinger and Parker 1999). Wind-dispersed seeds enable long distance travel (Zollinger and Parker 1999). Their rapid germination facilitates rapid establishment in diverse habitats (Zollinger and Parker 1999).

Sonchus has five angled hollow stem which exudes latex or whitish milk if damaged. The stem is dark green. A mature plant may be 30 to 110 cm in height. First leaves are round with slightly toothed margins with a few spines. They have sparse hairs on the upper leaf surface. Mature leaves are thin, soft and light green in colour.

Nomenclature and Common Names
It is reported that Sonchus oleraceous was named by Carolus Linnaeus in his book “Species Plantarum” in 1753. Sonchus means “hollow”. It is a Greek name for sow thistle. The Greek epithet “oleraceous” means “kitchen vegetable”. Its common names popular in different parts of the world are – Pualele in Hawaii; sow thistle, hare’s thistle and Hare’s Lettuce in USA; rauriki, pororua, puwha in Maori; Cerraja, diente de leon lechaso in Colombia; Leche in Bolivia and Qarasapi in Quechua. In India it is considered to be a close relative of Taraxacum sp. Here it is variously known in different regional languages. In French it is known as Laiteron commun, Lastron piquant. In Spanish it is known as Cerraja, Morraja and Nilhue.

It is typically found at an altitude of 0 to 4,653m. It is found in India, Europe, Australia, Middle East, North and South America, Mediterranean, North Africa, Atlantic Island etc. In India it is found in waste land, near margins of buildings, along roadsides and in neglected areas. It is reported that this plant is native to Europe (Wagner et al.1999) Eurasia and Northern Africa. However, it has been naturalized in India and appears here and there as a native plant.

Medicinal Properties
In traditional western medical systems, the plant is considered as abortificent. Its extract is considered to have anti-cancer, anti-diarrheal, anti-inflammatory properties. It is reported to have blood purifying and tranquillizing properties.

In Turkey, the stem juice is used as cathartic. In China, it is considered that its juice clears infections and can be taken to cure opium addiction. It is digestive, purgative, diuretic. Paste of roots and leaves is used as febrifuge. In China, it is applied to stop bleeding, as tooth-ache remedy and as vermicide.

In other traditional medical systems, it is considered that its extract clears heat toxins, invigorates blood and stops bleeding, cools the blood, corrects linear imbalances and poor digestion.

In England, it is used to treat high blood pressure. The juice of the plant in distilled water is used for all hot inflammations, eruptions etc. In China the extract of the plant is used to treat appendicitis, sore throat, ear infections, infectious hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice, and liver dysfunctions, abscess, boils, carbuncles, caked breasts, uterine bleeding and irregular menses, coughing up blood, hematuria etc.

In U.S.A. its extract is used for the treatment of infectious hepatitis, cirrhosis, warts, and liver dysfunctions. In New Zealand the plant extract is taken to treat burning stomach, dyspepsia and other stomach problems. There, it is used also for the treatment of ear infections, other infections, and to check unwanted pregnancy. There the plant was once used by Captain Cook for scurvy. There it is also used to treat scorpion bite, abscess, and as blood purifier. In Germany, the plant extract is used in the treatment of cancer.

Nicholas Culpepper, an English Botanist (18 Oct. 1916 – 10 Jan. 1654) has recommended applications of this plant for the treatment of number of ailments like urinary stones, stopping of urine, urinary obstructions, easy and speedy delivery etc. Some of Nicholas Culpepper’s prescriptions are mentioned below –
1.   Juice of the plant in distilled water is good for all hot inflammations, eruptions, and etching of the hemorrhoids.
2.   It is wonderfully good for women to wash their faces with, to clear the skin and to maintain its luster.
3.   Its extract is good for hot stomach.
4.   Extract of the plant mixed with the bitter almond oil and pomegranate skin if applied topically can cure deafness.

Nutritional Properties
Sow-thistle is a favourite food for rabbits and poultry and it is also used as fodder for cattle. The white latex is suspected of being mildly poisonous and cases of poisoning of lambs (Somalia) and horses (Australia) have been attributed to Sonchus oleraceous.

The leaves taste mild to quite bitter. Leaves contain per 100 g edible portion: water 87 g, energy 110 kJ (26 kcal), protein 3.2 g, carbohydrate 1.8 g, fibre 3.3 g, Ca 32 mg, Mg 76 mg, P 58 mg, Fe 3.8 mg, Zn 0.8 mg, carotene 16 mg, ascorbic acid 78 mg (Guil-Guerrero,J.L.,Giménez-Giménez, A., Rodríguez-García, I. & Torija-Isasa, M.E., 1998).

A study of chemical constituens of the extract of the whole plant reveals that it contains following nutrients- minerals and vitamins-
Minerals: Calcium: 1500 mg; Phosphorus: 500 mg; Iron: 45.6 mg, Magnesium: 0 mg; Sodium: 0 mg; Potassium: 0 mg; Zinc: 0 mg;
Vitamins: A: 35 mg; Thiamine (B1): 1.5 mg; Riboflavin (B2): 5 mg; Niacin: 5 mg; B6: 0 mg; C: 60 mg


·         Brooker,S.G., et al. 1987.New Zealand’s Medicinal Plants. Rev. ed. Aukland: Reed Books.

·         Haselwood, E.L. and G.G. Motter, eds. 1983. Handbook of Hawaiian Weeds. 2nd eds. Honolulu: University of Hawai’I Press.

·         Kaaiakamanu, D.M.1922. Hawaiian Herbs of medicinal value.(Trans. By Akaiko Akana) Rutland, VT:.Charles E. Tuttle Comapany
·         Moerman, Daniel E. 1986. Medicinal Plants of Native America. Volumes one and two. Nn Arbor, MI.: University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology.
·         Wolf MA(1999).“Winning the war on weeds”: The essential gardener guide to weed identification and control. (Kangaroo Press: East Roseville, Australia)
·         Zollinger, R.K., and R. Parker.  1999.  Sowthistles.  In: Sheley, R.L. and J.K. Petroff (eds.).  Biology and management of noxious rangeland weeds.  Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon.  438 pp.
·                     Charles Darwin Research Station. 2005. CDRS Herbarium Records.
·                     Wagner, Warren L./Herbst, Derral R./Sohmer, S.H.1999. Manual of flowering plants of Hawalii. Honolulu. 1919 pp.

Key Words:
Sonchus oleraceous,weed, nutrirional and medicinal value, Africa, U.S.A., weed, noxious, Nicholas Culpepper
Image 4: credit USDA

Friday, June 17, 2011

A neglected, rare and beautiful thistle




Bryophyllum shows its beauty




Monday, June 06, 2011

Sleeping trees

Butea sp. : The flame of the forest

Butea is a genus of flowering plants belonging to family Fabaceae. It is a medium sized dry season deciduous tree growing up to a height of 15m. It is slow growing tree. Young trees have a growth rate of a few feet per year. Leaves of Butea are pinnate with petioles measuring 8 to 16 cm and three leaflets each 10 to 20 cm long. Fruit of Butea is pod 15 to 20cm long and 4 to 5 cm broad. It has many species out of those popular species are B. monosperma, B. frondosa, and B. reflexa.

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Butea is named after John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713 – 1792), Member of Parliament, Prime Minister for one year, and a patron of Botany. In 1795 William Roxburgh erected the genus Butea. But the same was not accepted and was marked invalid. However, the name Butea was validated by Carl Wildenow in 1802.
In English butea is known as Flame of the Forest or Bastard Teak. It is known as Kingshukor or Palash, Tesu, or Kinsuk   in Bengali and Hindi. In Punjabi it is known as Keshu and in Gujrati it is known as Kesudo.
Butea monosperma is native to tropical and sub-tropical parts of Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia ranging across India, Bangla Desh, Nepal, Pakistan, Srilanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Western Indonesia.
Economic Importance
Butea tree is used for timber, resin, fodder, medicine and dye. The gum derived from this tree is known as kamarkas in Hindi. It is used in some food dishes. It contains tannin and hence it is used by leather workers. It is astringent and is used by druggists.
The wood is durable under water. So it is used for making well-rings and scoops. Good quality charcoal can also be made from its wood. Flowers of Butea are used for making traditional Holi colours. Its leaves are traditionally used for making plates and cups in India.
·         Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
·         Butea monosperma (Lam.) Taub. Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2006-05-18.Retrieved 2009-10-24.
·         Cowen, D. V. (1984). Flowering Trees and Shrubs in India, Sixth Edition. Bombay: Thacker and Co.Ltd., p.3.

Key Words : Butea, palash, flame of the forest, leaves,
Photo Credit Image 2 and 3: flikr

Sunday, June 05, 2011

What can humans do for environment?


Human beings, like other animals, are important biotic components of the environment. They form a unique trophic level. Besides food, they need a number of other resources for their welfare and development for which they exploit most of the natural resources through the application of modern technologies that have been developed by them over centuries. They have reasons as well as emotions. Reasons put them on right path whereas emotions often mislead them to think only for themselves.

As rational partners
All the consumers of the environment including man exploit natural resources and utilize them for their growth, development and other welfare activities. Man too, belongs to the group of consumers in nature. Hence, he is a partner in terms of consumption of natural resources. But, he thinks himself to be the supreme master or the owner of everything of nature that is found around him. Due to this thought, he exploits and misuses most of the resources for the interest of his own. These human activities create a lot of problems in the natural environment and alter most of its natural processes.

As social partners    
As important component of the natural ecosystems human beings serve as important links in the process of flow of energy and transfer of materials. Besides this, they take away major shares of natural resources and go on disturbing the normal natural processes. Their activities disturb the delicate natural fabric of co- existence among organisms of nature. Hence, human being should act as a social partner in the natural system.    
According to modern concept, people or society is the centre of development and that the development is for the whole society including all sections of people. It is considered that poor men and women are vulnerable to all types of adverse environmental conditions. Still, these groups contribute to the economic growth up to greater extents. If these people are empowered, a state of social harmony can be established which is most essential for the economic growth. Such policies are to be made that help all people to develop their potential, to improve their productivity, to increase their contribution to economy and to share the rewards of development as equal partners.

An Example of Social Partnership                                                     
Due to growing need of timber for railways, the British started large scale deforestation in the Shivalik hill region, located in the North-west of India stretching from Nepal to the Pakistan border.. Even after passing the Punjab Land Preservation Act in1902, villages did not stop their practice of cultivating the forest land and sending their cattle to graze in, as they had no alternate source of their livelihood. Continued deforestation and cutting of Bhabhar grass (Eulaliopsis binata) for paper mills caused serious soil erosion through gully formation and soon the hill became naked. The Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute reported in 1970 that sediments were running off from the hills of Shivalik at the annual rate of 600 tonnes per hectare near Sukhomanjari village.

Some social workers started educating the villages of Sukhomanjari about methods of soil conservation and importance of vegetation. A hill resource Management Committee was formed in the village in 1980s and villagers started fencing of Shivalik hills by building earthen dams across natural gullies. In 1986, pleased by the activities of villagers, the Haryana Forest Department gave the contracts for cutting fodder grass as well as the bhabhar grass to villagers of Sukhomanjari. The money thus earned has been a major incentive for the Participatory Forest Management System. The social fund raised by above activities is utilized to run various educational and Health Development Activities in the area.

Conservation of environment through traditions, customs and cultures
The protection and preservation of environment are deeply rooted in social traditions, customs and culture in India. Indian people in ancient times feared from natural forces like fire, wind, water etc. and started worshipping them. They offered divine status to natural forces and called them Gods. Trees, animals, rivers, and even stones and rocks acquired Godly status during those days.

The age-long tradition of nature worship is still continued in Indian societies. Today, the feelings and faiths in traditions, customs and cultures are still preserving our resources in different parts in India. We need to observe our traditions, customs and cultures and to encourage their practices for the sake of environment.
Here are examples of some important Indian traditions, customs and cultures that were and still are in practice in different parts in India.

-          The concept of keeping forest reserves was first developed by Kautilya, an Indian scholar in the past.
-          Trees of different species are protected and preserved as sacred groves in most parts of the country. The concept of Panchvati (a group of five ficus trees; vati is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘vat’ meaning vat-vriksha or banyan tree) has been elaborated in many of Indian Epics.
-          Bisnois of Rajasthan have a tradition of protecting wildlife including Black Buck and Khejri trees since 1451 or so.
-          The Nature Worship is the age- long tradition in many religions in India.
-          Different water conservation strategies and traditions have been in practice in many parts of India.
-          Protection of wildlife and natural resources has been enshrined in Hindu religion and culture and it has also been stressed in the Constitution of India.

Key Words: environment, participatory forest management, traditions, cultures, Bisnois, Sukhomanjari

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Cleome sp. in diverse habitats

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White Argemone

Phyllanthus niruri in a strange habitat

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Phyllanthus niruri

Family : Euphorbiaceae

Common names : Phyllanthus, Gulf Leafflower, Black Catnip, Chanca Piedra, Shatterstone, Stone Breaker, Quebra Pedra, Gale Of Wind, Carry Me Seed, Creole Senna

Distribution : commonly found in central and southern India, Srilanka and other countries of the world.

Medicina Applications: The extract of Phyllanthus has been reported to block DNA Polymerage, the enzyme needed for the hepatitis B virus to reproduce. It is helpful in curing Jaundice, dyspepsia, ulcers, sores, swellings, ophthalmia, 
dropsy, and urino- genital infections.

Key Words : Phyllanthus niruri, stone breaker, southern India, Hepatitis B

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Significance of Vat Savitri Amavasya – a Hindu festival

Vat Savitri just passed yesterday. It falls on Amavasya (dark or moonless night) of Jyeshtha (say June) month of the Hindu calendar. What is vat-Savitri? Many of our reader may know it very well. For others who do not know it and who want to know its significance – this short piece is being presented by ECOSENSORIUM.

Hindu ladies worshipping VAT- SAVITRI

Well, India is a country of festivals. People belonging to different religions and cultures have different festivals that are deeply rooted in goodness, human values, spiritual values, and social integrity. Vat Savitri is a Hindu festival mainly celebrated by ladies who keep fast on this day and worship Goddess Savitry under Banyan tree. Vat means Banyan Tree (Ficus benghalensis) and Savitri is the name of a Hindu Goddess. Savitri is also the name of a brave and religious lady of ancient India. Married ladies remain on fast on this day and worship Goddess Savitri under a Banyan Tree. They tie red coloured sacred thread around the trunk of the Banyan tree to which they worship. They sit under the tree and listen to the story of Savitri. The narrator of the story remains a priest of some temple or a professional Brahmin.

Vat Savitri is a festival of its own meaning, philosophy and values. It establishes the power and virtues of ladies in Indian societies on one hand, and generates awareness towards the protection of trees, the integral parts of our natural environment.

Savitri means Gayatri or Saraswati, two Goddesses of Hindus. The story goes like this – There was a king in Bhadra Desh (a country) who did not have any offspring. His wife, the queen worshipped Goddess Savitri and pleased her. The pleased Goddess blessed her with a beautiful girl child, and both the king and the queen named her Savitri on the name of the Goddess. Savitri was later married to Satyavan, a boy with a short life spawn. Feared from his short life as told by priests, Savitri always accompanied Satyavan wherever he went. One day when Satyavan went to the forest to collect wood, Savitri also accompanied him. He climbed on a banyan tree to collect dried twigs but came down soon when he felt head ache. Savitri sat under the tree with the head of her husband in her lap. Meanwhile the God of death Yama appeared before her and told her that her husband’s life was over and he was there to drag the soul out of his body. Savitri prohibited him and argued with him for a long time. At last Savitri won over him and Yama had to free the soul of her husband along with giving her a number of boons. Thus Satyavan came to life.

The story reveals us that even the God of death had to surrender before the wisdom and moral strength of a lady. The story teaches ladies to become great like Savitri in maintaining relations with their husbands, and teaches humans to recognize the power and goodness of ladies.

Hindus believe that all the three gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva live in Banyan tree. They also believe that Lord Krishna rests in the pleasant shade of this tree.

In Ayurveda, Banyan tree is regarded as a tree of great medicinal values. It has the power of curing wounds, arthritis and asthma. It releases huge volumes of oxygen after absorbing carbon dioxide of air. Since its canopy remains larger than any other tree, the total surface area of leaves is also very great. It facilitates intake of great volume of carbon dioxide and the tree in turn releases great volume of oxygen which is essential for life.

Thus Vat Savitri is a Hindu festival which teaches us to respect and empower ladies on one hand, and to protect our environment on the other.
Key Words : India, Hindus, religion, festival, Ficus benghalensis, vat, savitri

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The rarest bird

A bird has been spotted recently in the rice fields in the outskirts of Ranchi.The author had never seen it earlier in this location.Ornithologists and bird photographers - are requested to identify this bird and to send their comments.

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