Sandalwood trees in Kerala and parts of Karnataka are rapidly being affected by the Sandalwood Spike Disease (SSD) which is rapidly killing the trees, say scientists, R. Sundararaj and R. Raja Rishi of the Institute of Wood Science & Technology (IWST) in Bengaluru. SSD is caused by phytoplasma which is a bacterial parasite of the plant tissues and is spread from one tree to another through insects.
Currently, there is no cure for SSD and all the infected trees have to be cut down to mitigate the spread. So, a study is initiated by the Union Ministry of AYUSH for three years with IWST and National Centre for Cell Sciences in Pune to find a cure. As every year from 1% to 5% of the sandalwood trees are affected by SSD, if measures are not taken soon, it will wipe out all the sandalwood trees. Due to the disease, the production of sandalwood has come down resulting in the increase of its prices. It is also feared that, if not arrested, the disease will even spread to cultivated Sandalwood, affecting Sandalwood production further.
This rapid spread of SSD is due to the ban on green felling, that is the cutting of trees, which enables the vectors to rapidly reach for other healthy sandalwood trees affecting them too. This disease is not easily noticed and becomes visible only after the tree has almost completely been destroyed making it more difficult to curb the spread of SSD.
India is one of the major producers of fragrant Sandalwood products, and if not acted upon effectively and rapidly India may lose a very treasured and valuable resource forever.