Butterflies, nematodes and marvellous marigolds in Goa
The cyclonic rains have gone for now, the monsoons have receded and the sun is up, shining bright and hot. Caterpillars of all kinds, in different shapes and colours, are also making their appearance. Something that looks like bird shit can be seen on the leaves of the lemon, lime and curry-patta trees. It is actually a caterpillar of the lemon or citrus butterfly, Papilio demoleus, camouflaged by Mother Nature to prevent the early birds from feasting on the fattest worms!
The late rains have slightly delayed their appearance on centre stage. The absence of brightly coloured flowers has led the beautiful butterflies to lay their eggs on the leaves of these plain Jane plants. A host of swaying marigolds would have changed it all!
MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY PICTURE
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but the Konkani term Rosam has nothing to do with the Latin Rosa and the English Rose. Rosam is the local word for marigold. This is the flower most commonly associated with Dussehra, which will be celebrated in the middle of next week.
After Diwali, on October 24, it will be time for Tulsi Vivah and the wedding season, which uses a maximum number of marigold flowers for decorating wedding mantaps, starts thereafter. After the function, the flowers can be dried and used as poultry feed to get a beautiful orange hue and can even be used for seed.
Marigold flowers now find application in petal therapy and aroma therapy. This can help one overcome depression due to rising prices and taxes; loss of income or even occupation. Who knows, it may even reduce the incidence of the coronavirus and the new form of LSD (Lumpy Skin Disease) in cattle.
The dried petals are used for the extraction of a yellow pigment as a food colour and cloth dye. The powder is also used in rangoli and during the holi festival. There will be a ‘petals rangoli competition’ at the annual ‘Plant Utsav’ from November 18 to 20, 2022, in which one can use fresh or dried petals.
As the years go by, more and more applications are being found for the flower that is truly worth its weight in gold.
Some farmers know the value of marigolds in their fields. The others need to learn, and learn quickly now. Many centuries ago, farmers on the Mediterranean coast found that tomatoes grew better when grown near plots of marigold plants. So, they grew marigold flowers in other fields where traditionally only tomatoes were grown and gained economically through better yields of tomatoes.
Root damaging nematodes were discovered later. The butterflies laid their eggs on the marigold plant and the leaf-miner caterpillar infestation on the nearby tomato, chilli and capsicum plants was greatly reduced. The role of the marigold in attracting insects to itself is now known as ‘Trap cropping’.
Marigold flowers are used across religions. The marigold’s warm yellow, orange or saffron colour signify warmth and sacrifice alike. It is a plant that we can grow easily in Goa and gain by having both flowers as well as protection against nematodes for chilies, tomato and banana plants.
The author is the former Chairman of the GCCI Agriculture Committee, CEO of Planter's Choice Pvt Ltd, Additional Director of OFAI and Garden Superintendent of Goa University, and has edited 18 books for Goa & Konkan