Vermicomposting transforms allelopathic parthenium into a benign organic fertilizer.
Vermicompost, which had been derived solely by the action of the epigeic earthworm Eisenia fetida on parthenium (Parthenium hysterophorus), was tested for its impact on the germination and early growth of green gram (Vigna radiata), ladies finger (Abelmoschus esculentus) and cucumber (Cucumis sativus). Seedlings were germinated and grown in soil amended with 0 (control), 0.75, 1.5, 2, 4, 8, 20 and 40% (by weight) parthenium vermicompost. Even though parthenium is known to possess strong negative allelopathy, as also plant/animal toxicity in other forms, its vermicompost (VC) manifested none of these attributes. Rather the VC enhanced germination success, introduced plant-friendly physical features in the container media, increased biomass carbon, and was seen to promote early growth as reflected in several morphological and biochemical characteristics in plants which had received parthenium VC in comparison to those which had not. All these effects were statistically significant. Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectrometry revealed that the phenols and the sesquiterpene lactones that are responsible for the negative allelopathic impact of parthenium were largely destroyed in the course of vermicomposting. FTIR spectra also indicated that lignin content of parthenium was reduced during its vermicomposting. The findings open up the possibility that several other invasives known for their negative allelopathy and toxicity may also produce vermicompost which may be plant-friendly and soil-friendly. It also makes it appear possible that the huge quantities of phytomass that is generated annually by parthenium can be gainfully utilized in producing organic fertilizer via vermicomposting, thereby providing a means of exercising some control over parthenium's rampant growth and invasion.