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Removing Paterson's Curse

Published 28 Aug 2020 by Jessica Stingemore (Reserve Manager)

With its vibrant purple flowers, Paterson’s Curse (Echium plantagineum) is often mistaken for a native wildflower but is, in fact, one of the most conspicuous weeds in paddocks and roadsides throughout Australia.

Supposedly named after the Paterson family of Cumberoona, NSW - who planted it in their garden in the 1880s – the weed is now highly competitive in disturbed land, competing with agricultural crops and pastures, and unique and fragile native species. It was introduced to Australia from Europe.

Here at Charles Darwin Reserve, this bristly, annual plant has also invaded what was once the old White Wells Station’s hay paddock from the early 1900s.

When Bush Heritage purchased White Wells in 2003, the former hay paddock was thick with knee high purple flowers and we knew we had a huge task ahead of us to control the weed. But now, after a huge amount of work, only a few patches remain. All thanks to the tireless efforts of a team of dedicated volunteers the war on weeds is slowly being won!

Over the years a combination of hand-weeding and chemical spraying has taken place, and this August the war continued with a small but mighty army.

Being my first foray into the weeding war at Charles Darwin Reserve, I was greatly impressed with how enthusiastic everyone was to attack the Paterson’s Curse (along with the double gees, cape weed and Stinking Roger) and how much knowledge (or should I say tactical experience) people had to share.

For starters, do not just pick the flower heads off Patterson’s Curse and leave them on the ground – they can still set seed! They can also germinate with heavy summer rain and produce small plants that flower and set seed in autumn.

Plus, the seedlings can quickly develop a strong root system and are quite drought resistant. After a bit of research I also found out that each plant can produce ‘gazillions’ of seeds, which remain viable for up to six years, and dense stands eventually form a seed bank of up to 30,000 seeds/m². Curse the curse!

After a long week of weed-pulling, made enjoyable by many fun-filled adventures with the volunteers – including spotting Bustards, Pink Cockatoos, baby Plovers and active Malleefowl mounds – all of the offensive weeds that we could find were deep buried and tools set aside for another year.

Or so I thought ... a week after the official weeding war we got a bit of rain and a few more Paterson’s Curse reared their ugly heads (okay the flowers are not ugly just unwanted).

So it was back to the paddock for me to continue the good fight on the war on weeds. And now every time I walk around the paddock I keep a keen eye out for more purple flowers, just in case.

And my take home message: practice good biosecurity – if you haven’t got Paterson’s Curse you don’t want it!

Oh and talking about wars – how is this for a war on waste? Can you guess which bag has landfill and which has the group’s recycling effort? And yes, the bags are both being reused and repurposed as we speak.

Our volunteer weeding army. Our volunteer weeding army.
Always make time for a morning tea break. Always make time for a morning tea break.
Typical view of the weeders – heads down, bums up. Typical view of the weeders – heads down, bums up.
Can you guess which bag has landfill and which has the group’s recycling effort? Can you guess which bag has landfill and which has the group’s recycling effort?

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