Besharam: Unscrupulous Ecological Disaster

The meaning of ‘Besharam’ in Hindi and few Indian languages is shameless or unashamed or unscrupulous. But if it is used as a name for a plant then it becomes little funny and makes curious to people to know more about such unscrupulous plant.

Ipomoea carnea is easily found in Asia, Africa, America, and many Pacific islands. In many places including India, it is listed as an invasive species while in the USA, it is a noxious weed. It is a large, flowering, evergreen, straggling, perennial shrub from the family of Convolvulaceae. This is an example of the successive invasive plant in India from tropical America origin and introduced to India at the end of the last century. This plant is naturalized and shows its invasive property all possible places such as wetlands, disturbed sites, and riparian areas. It is a strong competitor to native plants for all possible resources such as water, land, nutrients, etc. Now, this plant is well distributed throughout India and found many parts of the Indian subcontinent.

Cluster of besharam in aquatic environment (Photo credit: Kapilkumar Ingle)

This plant grows in aquatic as well as non-aquatic environment but in the aquatic environment, it acquires a shorter height than in non-aquatic habitat. Few years after growth, the steam of this plant become erect, cylindrical, green, woody, thick trunk and show growth of many branches from the base.

It’s alternate, simple leaves grow smaller in sunlight than in shade. This problem is not limited to India, but many countries in tropics and subtropics are facing this invasion. In Egypt, it is introduced as an ornamental plant and now it is found at many places easily such as roadside, waste and as well as farmland, canal bank, etc. It is common in a few parts of China, Middle East, South Africa, Nepal, and Taiwan too. This shows it potential to grow in a diverse environment and a wide range of habitat types. It grows in field margins, fields, open woodlands, gardens, grasslands, along waterways, irrigation channels, and wetlands and sometimes even beaches, too. The growth rate is dependent on seasonal variations. For example in June- July it shows lower growth which is late summer and early rainy season in India. However, late monsoon in September and October is favorable for the growth of this plant.

To fight against this invasion, first, it is necessary to understand the invasive properties of ‘besharam.’ It shows the growth higher in roadside than railway sides. This is probably due to the hardest location of railway sides due to railways constructions. Both sexual and asexual reproductions are found in this plant. The asexual plantation is normally through vegetative methods by the propagation of stem.  The storms, floods and heavy rainfall can be responsible for the flowing and spreading of this plant to various places. But the most common method is the propagation of seed dispersed by the wind or water.

Besharam in the wetland nearby Buldana city, India (Photo credit: Kapilkumar Ingle)

The uncontrolled growth and rapid spread of this weed make it an ecological disaster. Like many other invasive plants, the manual or mechanical removal of this plant invasion is not possible due to the requirement of manpower, cost, cleaning of aquatic habitat, etc. Furthermore, it regrows in a short time and re-infests the cleared area. It can become an obstruction and create difficulties in land-use practices. In the aquatic environment, it can affect the irrigation, fisheries and other uses of the aquatic ecosystem.

With the chemical method, it may possible to control this invasion by spraying certain chemicals in water bodies where this invasion available. But it can harm to the local ecosystem and be responsible for the death of fishes and other ecosystem components. And the use of such water for irrigation can become harmful for plants. ‘Besharam’ is poisonous to mammals including goats and cattle. However, there are few insects feed on this plant such as water hyacinth weevils, water hyacinth mites, few fish species particularly grass carp, few snails and grasshoppers. However, these organisms are not effective to use them as bio-control agents to tackle the invasiveness of this plant.

Finally, its naturalization, broad range to grow, adaptation to different environments, tolerance to variations in seasons, fast growth rate, high reproductive potential and no use for human, negative impacts on the native ecosystem and difficult to control, etc make it really ‘Besharam.’

About the Author
Kapilkumar is an Indian research fellow at Tel Aviv University. His academic background is of environmental science. He studied journalism at Pune University, India and completed his intern at Lokmat newspaper, one of the leading newspapers in Maharashtra state of India. Kapilkumar is interested in addressing the challenges relating to climate change by using the fields of journalism and environment together.
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