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‘Gregarious bamboo flowering' triggers famine fears

M.L. Melly Maitreyi

Belief in the north-east that it brings drought, famine


Phenomenon occurred in 1960s in Mizoram, leading to an increase in the rodent population

Timing of flowering a mystery even to scientists; cycle varies from seven years to 120 years


HYDERABAD: Reports about the flowering of bamboo at the Nehru Zoological Park, a phenomenon said to occur once in the life cycle of bamboo plant, have brought into focus the popular belief in the north-east region that it is an impending sign of severe drought and famine.

Rare occurrence

Forest Department special secretary K.D.R. Jayakumar told The Hindu that bamboo usually spreads through vegetative propagation, and the phenomenon called the “gregarious flowering of bamboo” is indeed a rare occurrence in its life cycle.

After the flowering and seeding, the bamboo ‘clumps' die. But rodents that feast on bamboo seeds multiply their numbers and start attacking agricultural crops once the bamboo plant perishes after flowering.

The phenomenon occurred in the 1960s in Mizoram and led to an enormous increase in the rodent population, with subsequent famine and unrest among the people.

‘Not proven'

Mr. Jayakumar, however, said it was not scientifically proven that bamboo flowering could lead to famine and drought, but that it remained a traditional belief among tribals in the north-east. A bad agricultural year could have also been attributed to the “gregarious bamboo flowering.”

He added that increasing world-wide deforestation, pollution and green house gases were the cause for extreme temperatures, the depleting ground water table and irregular weather cycle.

Subramanyam, retired Principal Scientist and Head of the All-India Coordinated Research Project on Agro Forestry, ANGRAU, told TheHindu that the timing of bamboo flowering was a mystery even to scientists as the flowering cycle varied from seven years to 120 years. No one could predict its onset, he added.

He also ruled out the notion that a drought year was preceded by bamboo flowering. “It is basically a problem caused due to the menace unleashed by lakhs of rats feeding on food grains as had happened in Mizoram and other north-eastern States with vast tracts of bamboo plantations,” Dr. Subramanyam said.

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