Killer weed cases mushrooming

Killer weed cases mushrooming
The weed, called Parthenium hysterophorus, growing wildly in Sidam, Kulim, in the Malaysian state of Kedah.

PETALING JAYA - More people are coming forward to report Parthenium hysterophorus infestations since The Star's report on the menace was published earlier this week in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture's (DOA) outreach efforts.

Within just a few days, P. hysterophorus has been discovered in Johor and Malacca, bringing the total number of affected states to six.

In just a week, more than 1,500 P. hysterophorus plants have been discovered around Johor.

"We will update our figures as we discover more infestations or receive more reports from the public," said DOA director-general Datuk Ahmad Zakaria Mohd Sidek at a press conference here yesterday.

Statistics released on Nov 26 noted a mere 4.8ha were infested nationwide, but data released just over a week later showed 28.28ha, nearly a six-fold jump.

While the DOA cannot predict how widespread the infestation truly is as public awareness is in its infancy, it has pledged to update its data fortnightly.

DOA is working overtime to era­dicate the noxious weed which is harmful to both humans and animals as well as crops, and is collaborating with several agencies.

"We have already asked the Department of Veterinary Services to import livestock from farms with no trace of the weed," he said.

It is believed that P. hysterophorus, sometimes referred to as "congress grass" or Santa Maria feverfew, was transported to Malaysia via imported livestock.

"Unfortunately, we do not know when it was first brought here as the seeds can lie dormant for up to 10 years," said Ahmad Zakaria, who revealed that the department would press on with intensive protective measures, including herbicide sprays for up to five years.

"This is an ongoing operation and we have to remain alert," he said.

On biological controls such as the Parthenium beetle, which eats the weed before it can flower; or growing competing species that will vie with the weed for nutrients, DOA Plant Biosecurity Division director Faridah Aini Muhammad said caution had to be in place.

"We will be meeting scientists and researchers next week to discuss the next step. We have to be wary of simply bringing in fo­reign insects as we don't know what effects they will have on our ecosystem," she said.

Currently, the main methods to remove the weed, which can also cause intestinal damage to ruminants and allergic reactions in humans, are pulling it out, using herbicides, or spraying a saline solution (one part salt to four parts water).

Currently, known infestations are in Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Johor, Malacca, Kedah and Perak.

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