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Ranging from plains of Jammu to the aired zone of Ladakh- the state of Jammu and Kashmir is adobe to many species of trees shrubs and herbs. The state is blessed by unique flora and fauna owing to its geographical and climatic diversity from sub-tropical, temperate to cold desert of ladakh. Like other states the increase in the population and pressure on resources including forests is a natural consequence and to address the ever increasing demand for timber, the forest department and concerned wings from time to time have introduced different exotic tree species to narrow down the gap between demand and supply. The introduction of exotics and afforestation on roadsides is an age old practice and was prevalent before the time of British in India.

The introduction of fast growing trees in India like Eucalyptus, poplars etc has revolutionized the practice of agro-forestry and has been very effective in fetching fast returns and also reducing the pressure on forests. Our social forest department, Jammu and Kashmir, has suitably introduced the Russian poplar known as Populus deltiodes. Russian poplar is actually a misnomer and the species is known as Eastern cotton wood or necklace poplar and is native of North America.The species is among the record fast growing exotic poplars and reaches at exploitable age/ rotation age in only 10-15 years.The species has not only reduced our dependence on limited forests but has been able to meet out demand of packing cases/ fruit boxes for apples and other fruits.

Horticulture is set to be the backbone of our state economy and is continuously recording an overwhelming increase in SGDP. Poplars have also been able to meet out demand of local timber and veneers, plies for ply boards and core boards and therefore 80 percent of our demand is satisfied by the species. But the species became very unpopular due to its cotton menace in the recent years. The cotton enclosing seed from female catkins has caused hues and cries and the specie has been criticized for allergic reactions and respiratory ailments. People during these days can be seen wearing masks and protecting themselves from this allergic cotton of poplars.

There is however the other group of medical experts who do not believe the cotton from poplars alone for triggering the allergic reactions and are of view that pollen from other trees including grasses are more harmful than cotton from poplars alone. Whatever poplars were criticized for ultimately reached the doors of judiciary and Honorable High court ordered its removal with immediate effect. Keeping in view its advantageous, the fast growth and its role in reducing the pressure on forest and hence conservation of Green gold cannot be ignored and that is why the scientists of forestry at SKUAST Kashmir have been able to devise  some techniques and methods to get rid of these cotton tuffs. One of them is lopping of branches especially upper branches which according to experts produce more cotton-the method will not only help is reducing the production of cotton but will also help in meeting the requirements of firewood and production of knot free timber.  The other initiatives include replacing the female clones with male poplars for that matter trails have already been held at Faculty of Forestry SKUAST and the university has been able to produce and propagate cotton free male poplars which are available for cultivation. Many number of cotton free poplars have been distributed among farmers at different occasions during Kissan Melas.

Biotechnological studies and researches at molecular levels carried out will be able to produce cotton free poplars and effective morphological research will help to recognize the male and female clones at very nursery stages and thus can become an effective tool for nursery growers. The cotton free poplars will help us in replacing the earlier ones, curb the cotton menace, redressing the demand of timber and eliminating pressure on conifer dominated precious forests which need to be conserved, maintained to ensure our existence on earth.

The writer is M.SC forestry (SKUAST K)

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