Beware of the ‘alligator’!

By Megara Tegal, Pix by Athula Devapriya

You may want to think twice the next time you help yourself to some mukunuwenna mallum, for you might just be serving yourself a toxic alligator weed mallum instead. As menacing as it sounds, alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides) at first glance can be easily mistaken for mukunuwenna, a local favourite.
The weed grows vigorously in moist conditions.

Originating in Australia the ‘invasive and noxious’ weed was first discovered in Sri Lanka in 1999 in the Hambantota district. How the Aussie weed found its way to Sri Lanka is somewhat of a mystery, although it’s possible someone from Australia brought the weed to Sri Lanka having mistaken it for mukunuwenna, officials at the Department of Agriculture suggest.

The weed, well known for its vigorous growth, spread from the Southern Province to the Western Province where it was unsuspectingly harvested and sold as mukunuwenna. The department acted quickly to ensure the problem was nipped in the bud and the weed problem was eradicated.

But a decade later the weed has resurfaced. Two weeks ago it was brought to the attention of the department, that alligator weed was being sold as mukunuwenna in Kurunegala.

This time too the department is taking the same measures as before, conducting training programmes to educate farmers about alligator weed and creating awareness among the public by passing out leaflets and alerting them through the media.
A woman selling mukunuwenne leaves

While not poisonous in itself, the weed absorbs heavy metals, such as copper, that are deposited at the reservoirs. Thus consumption can lead to chronic illnesses that gradually show in symptoms over a length of time, said Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Jinadarie de Soysa.

“At this point it’s difficult to say if the weed has caused any illnesses or deaths among people, although we have discovered some livestock with skin infections which may have been the result of heavy metal poisoning,” she adds.

Coming from the same family as mukunuwenna, alligator weed requires the same environmental conditions for rapid growth as mukunuwenna. Found growing in mukunuwenna cultivations, in warm moist conditions, the weed flourishes around reservoirs and this is where the problem arises.

How to tell the difference
Alligator plant

nWhen buying mukunuwenna, beware of leaves that look shiny. This is a distinctive feature of the alligator weed.

nBe sure to check the white flower heads, which are found on both plants. If the stalk is long it’s most likely to be an alligator weed as mukunuwenna flower heads sprout from very short stalks.

nBefore preparing the mukunuwenna, cut a cross section of the stalk. If the stalk is hollow you can be sure it’s alligator weed and not mukunuwenna.

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
Other Plus Articles
Hi-tech teacher at their little fingertips
Horror show scenes of verminous shanty towns -- Letter to the editor
Pensioners weary of waiting for government to act -- Letter to the editor
True patriots within and outside the country -- Appreciation
Her meritorious deeds live on -- Appreciation
Guiding light and role model for a generation of girls and women -- Appreciation
Your golden, healing hands touched thousands -- Appreciation
Where help is home delivered
Beware of the ‘alligator’!
Sermon to demons atop historic rock
IFS: Bringing science closer to the people
A journey of togetherness
The many layers of a book
Ask the US Consul
Value the child’s life, not what he/she can be
Remembering a brave spirit
A guide and teacher in the study, practice and dissemination of the Dhamma
Lankan Psychologist nominated for Grawemeyer Award for 5th time
Where it all began
Platters: The members may change, but the music goes on!
A model’s world unfolds


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2009 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.| Site best viewed in IE ver 6.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution