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Neem: A Tree that “Heals” itself is “Suffering” From Fungus Attack

The disease changes the leaf color to pale green or yellow, scorches the leaf margins and reduces the growth of twigs and stem. Scientists hope that the medicinal properties inherent in the tree can help it heal itself.

Ayushi Raina
'Dieback disease' has spread like wildfire affecting hundreds of neem trees across the state.
'Dieback disease' has spread like wildfire affecting hundreds of neem trees across the state.

Neem, which is well-known for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory characteristics, is under vicious fungal attack, and the disease is fast spreading.

It was initially discovered in Telangana's Gadwal district a few months ago, the fungal infection known as 'dieback disease' has spread like wildfire affecting hundreds of neem trees across the state.

Difficult Time

The disease causes the leaf to turn light green or yellow, scorches the leaf edges, and stunts twig and stem development. Despite the lack of yield estimates, neem extract is commonly employed in agricultural remedial formulations.

"Our researchers have isolated 11 pathogens that are causing the problem." Considering the size of the trees, we do not recommend applying or spraying chemical pesticides," R Jagadeeshwar, Director of Research at Prof. Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, stated.

“If you spray chemical pesticides on big trees there is every possibility of polluting the soil around. It could adversely impact other plants,” he said.

Jitta Bal Reddy, a farmer from Bhuvanagiri district, claimed the disease had infected about ten neem trees in his farm. "The disease causes the tree to suffer, eventually killing it," he stated.

Bal Reddy claims that he explored alternative medications like homoeopathy to cure the disease and says it is working. However, according to Jagadeeshwar, the usage of homoeopathic medicines to cure the condition has not been tested.

With thousands of neem trees threatened by the disease outbreak, the PJTSAU has deployed a team to investigate the issue. G Uma Devi, Professor and Head of the Department of Plant Pathology, has written a detailed note about the issue.

"The disease is spreading at an alarming rate throughout India.  'Dieback' refers to the progressive death of twigs and branches, which typically starts at the tips" according to the note. Despite being first recorded in India in Dehradun in 1992, the prevalence of dieback disease is considered to be on the rise this year.

Jagadeeshwar, on the other hand, believes that neem trees can fight back with their innate capabilities. "As Ugadi (Telugu New Year Day) approaches, we may expect the trees to shrug off the problem and thrive once more," he concluded.

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