Ecology | VOL. 8, ISSUE 46, January-February 2008

Flowers of Doom

Bamboo grows wild in at least 30 percent of Mizoram's total geographical area of 21,081 square kilometers. The plant is of two types, ‘mau’ and ‘thing’ -Melocanna bamboo Soidef and Bambusa tulda classified by European botanists. The mautaam refers to a famine (‘taam’ meaning famine) caused by the cycle of ‘mau’ bamboo flowers, while thingtaam refers to that caused by the cycle of ‘thing’ bamboo flowers. The pretty mauve, yellow and crimson bamboo flowers sprout its seeds in a cycle of every 30 to 50 years. This flowering phenomenon and consequent dropping of millions of protein rich seeds triggers off an enormous increase in the rat population which throws their subsistence lifestyle out of gear. When the seed supply is exhausted the rats move to crops and granaries. Devastation that follows is unbelievable for an animal that is so puny. These rats gobble up all that is available to them including entire standing crops. Soon food is in short supply, causing a famine, the rat famine. Scientists say that bamboo flower seeds have high protein content of nearly 12 percent and high starch content of nearly 50 percent. It also contains vitamin A, which helps to augment the fertility of the rats and enhances hormonal stimulation enabling the female rats to reproduce much earlier and more frequently. The 1958-1959 mautaam killed at least 100 people,...

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