Mon, Apr 06, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Aggressive non-native weed is spreading north

PARTHENIUM The toxic plant, which was originally from South America, had until recently only been spotted south of Taichung, but has spread to Miaoli

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

One of the pleasures of the great outdoors is enjoying the beautiful greenery.

However, it may not always be a good idea to bring flowers home, the Council of Agriculture’s (COA) Endemic Species Research Institute (ESRI) said yesterday.

The ESRI said it recently discovered that Parthenium, an aggressive, toxic weed traditionally found in central and southern Taiwan that looks like the plant Baby’s Breath, is migrating northward toward Miaoli County.

“Parthenium contains the toxin parthenin, which is harmful to both humans and animals,” ESRI assistant researcher Huang Shi-yuan (黃士元) said.

When the pollen is inhaled or contacted, parthenin induces an allergy in the respiratory system as well as skin rashes, Huang said.

While conditions such as rhinitis and bronchitis can result, the toxin has also been documented to cause liver dysfunctions in humans, or even mass deaths in livestock in Australia.

Parthenium was originally found in South America.

Because it is a hardy plant that survives in various climates, it has now spread throughout the world, including India, Australia and Taiwan, Huang said.

“We do not know the exact time that Parthenium was brought to the island, but its presence has been documented for at least two decades and was listed by the COA as a toxic plant in 1988,” he said, adding that the institute suspected that the weed’s seeds were accidentally imported along with edible grains.

What is alarming is that until recently, Parthenium was found only south of Taichung. But the plant has recently been found to occasionally grow in Miaoli, Huang said.

“Because its flowers look like Baby’s Breath, some people find them pretty and bring them home to plant. While right now the plant may not be a big problem, Parthenium is beginning to enter its flower season, from March to October, so it is important that people learn about it and destroy it in the wild, ” Huang said.

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