A study spanning 13 years has shed interesting light on flowering in Melocanna baccifera.
- The Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI), Thiruvananthapuram, conducted the study between 2009 and 2022 at its Bambusetum where the species was introduced during 1988-1996.
- The study was funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), the Department of Science and Technology, the Government of India, and the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) under the Kerala government.
About the Melocanna baccifera –
- It is a tropical bamboo species known for its association with the occurrence of ‘bamboo death,’ ‘rat floods’ and famines in northeast India.
- Researchers detected a correlation between the sugar content in the fruit of Melocanna bacciferaand the frenzied feeding and population boom in rats during ‘Mautam’, the cyclical, mass bamboo flowering that occurs once in 48 years.
- Called ‘Muli’ in northeast India, Melocanna baccifera is the largest fruit-producing bamboo and is native to the northeast India-Myanmar region.
- During its gregarious flowering, the bamboo produces large fruits which draw animal visitors/predators.
- They include pollen predators (honey bees), fruit predators (millipedes, slugs and snails, fruit borers, monkeys, rats, porcupines, wild boars and palm civets), seedling predators (rabbits, deer), and insect/pest predators (ants, mantis).
- During this period, they also multiply rapidly, a phenomenon dubbed as ‘rat flood.’
- Once the fruits are gone, they start devouring standing crops, causing famines that have claimed thousands of human lives.
- Earlier, it was presumed that ‘high protein in fruits/seeds’ was attracting the rats. However, a JNTBGRI study in 2016 that was part of the research found that the fruit actually contains very little protein. The predation is mainly due to the high content of sugars.