(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.