Cotton-leaved Physic Nut

Jatropha gossypiifolia L.

Synonyms - Jatropha gossypifolia L.

Family: - Euphorbiaceae


Jatropha is derived from the Greek “iatros” a surgeon or physician and “trophe” meaning mothers milk referring to the plants medicinal qualities and the milky sap of some species.
Gossypiifolia is from the Latin “gossypium” meaning cotton and “folium” meaning leaf and referring to the leaf shape being similar to leaf of the cotton plant.
Cotton-leaved Physic Nut because it has leaves are like a cotton plant and physic refers to its medicinal (or physician) properties.

Other Names:

Bellyache Bush refers to the purgative medicinal properties of the plant.
Physic Nut refers to its medicinal (or physician) properties.
Wild Cassava.


It is an upright, squat thick-stemmed invasive, viscid shrub with purplish, 3-5 lobed leaves turning bright green with age. It is 2 to 4 m tall and densely hairy with sticky glandular hairs. The leaves have 3-5 lobes and are on long stalks. It has clusters of purple-red flowers that form berries near the top of the plant.




First leaves:

In young Bellyache Bush the young leaves are sticky, deep purple, turning green when mature and deeply divided into 3-5 rounded lobes


Bright green when mature.
Stipules - Finely divided glandular hairy stipules.
Petiole - Long to 70 mm. Hairy.
Blade - about 100 mm in diameter, rounded or obovate in outline, with 3 to 5 lobes and edges covered in coarse, dark-brown hairs. Ciliate glandular margins.


2-4m tall.
Thick and rather soft.
Coarsely hairy.
Watery sticky sap exuded when injured.
One to several stems arising from a herbaceous crown.

Flower head:

Small clusters of flowers on branched stalks throughout plant's upper parts in leaf axils.


Unisexual. Separate male and female flowers.
Small, red to purple with yellow centres,
Ovary - 3 lobed. Forked stigma.
Sepals -
Petals -
Stamens -
Anthers -


Smooth, 3-lobed, oval, 12 mm diameter and 10 mm long containing 3 to 4 seeds.


Dark coloured.
About 8 mm long
Explosively released.


Shallow root system.
Forms suckers.
Rather fleshy and tuberous.

Key Characters:


Life cycle:

Perennial. The seeds germinate with the break of the season from October-December with the seedlings developing over the wet season and slowing in the dry season unless moisture is available. It probably flowers when it is 2 years old or more and flowering will continue throughout the year. Established plants form new shoots from the roots and crown at the break of the season.
It flowers throughout year where moisture is available.
It develops from a short, single-stemmed plant with 3 or 4 young leaves sprouting from the top. Young leaves are purple, sticky, deeply divided into 3-5 rounded lobes.
Older leaves are bright green, about 100 mm in diameter, with up to 5 lobes and edges covered in coarse, dark-brown hairs. Flowers are small, red-purple with yellow centres, in small clusters throughout plant's upper part. The seed pods are smooth, oval, 12 mm across containing 3 to 4 seeds about 8 mm long.



Seeds, root suckers and shoots from the crown.

Flowering times:

February to May in WA.
Elsewhere it flowers throughout year where moisture is available.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Seeds germinate from October to December.

Vegetative Propagules:

Root suckers.



Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Spreads by explosive release of its seeds and by suckers. It seeds may then also be spread by water.
Spread by fruit-eating birds, livestock and machinery.

Origin and History:

Introduced into Australia as an ornamental plant from tropical America, from the West Indies and Mexico to southern Brazil and Paraguay.
Probably introduced in the latter part of the 19th century.
In WA it was found near Wyndham initially.
Often found around abandoned homesteads and mine sites.



Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium.


Humid and sub humid tropical scrublands.
Potential range includes most of the tropical savanna of northern Australia.
Common along riverbanks and roadways, and in grasslands and open woodland.


Humid and sub humid tropical.


Deep loamy soil such as river flats.

Plant Associations:

Often forms monocultures.



Ornamental garden plant.
Has insecticidal and molluscicidal properties.
Used to deter snakes.
Used for oils and medicinal properties.
As a folk medicine “A yellow brown substance in the pith of old stems cures headaches by causing sneezes. (Dalziel, 1948). Sloane, referring to its use in Jamaica in the 1680s, called it 'the most general remedy of the poorer sort in the dry belly-ache', stating the dose as a decoction of 7-21 leaves (in Burkill, 1935)”.


The dense canopy shades out other plants.
It can form dense aggregations reducing local biodiversity and wild life.
Weed of riverbanks, roadways grasslands and open woodland.


The fruits and seeds are poisonous to humans and animals. Domestic stock may browse Bellyache Bush, especially during severe droughts with stock deaths reported.
All parts are toxic to humans.
The toxic substance is a toxalbumin.
Stick sap is stated to be poisonous. The seeds contain a purgative oil. The bark contains an alkaloid.


Gastroenteritis and the eventual death of some animals.


Remove stock from infested areas and provide alternate feed.


Weed of National Significance.
Declared weed in most states.

Management and Control:

Manual removal of Bellyache Bush is feasible due to the shallow-rooted nature of plants.

Bellyache Bush is susceptible to fire but as its foliage cover shades out grass growth, fuel loads are often insufficient to carry fire effectively. Fire can be used as part of an integrated control program to kill young Bellyache Bush seedlings and improve access for other control methods. Follow up control may require hand removal.

Mechanical slashing or chain and rake can help reduce stand density but is not effective for control. Slashing close to ground level and immediately painting the cut stems with 2,4-D + picloram or picloram + 2,4-D provides control and prevents suckering from the roots.

Fluroxypyr, metsulfuron-methyl, glyphosate, triclopyr and imazapyr are used for overall foliar treatments. Best results are achieved by applying a foliar spray on actively growing seedlings or plants and infestations during the wet season.
Hexazinone as a soil injection has also provided useful control.

Plant perennial grasses and maintain ground cover to reduce the risk of reinvasion.



Eradication strategies:

Herbicides in conjunction with the establishment of vigorous perennial grasses can provide local eradication.

Herbicide resistance:

None reported.

Biological Control:

CSIRO had a biocontrol project for Bellyache Bush.
Jewel bug (Agonosoma trilineatum) was released as biological control but has not been effective.

Related plants:

Physic Nut (Jatropha curcas) has rounded leaf lobes rather than pointed ones and is not naturalised in WA.

Plants of similar appearance:

Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis) is usually a taller bush with leaves divided into more (7-9) lobes, which are more pointed in shape and the fruit is larger. Flowers and fruit are on an obvious spike near the top of the plant. The fruit are covered with soft spines and are 2.5 cm across, much larger than those on bellyache bush. The leaves of Bellyache Bush are sticky and divided into rounded lobes. In young Bellyache Bush the leaves are deep purple, turning green when mature.
Finely divided glandular hairy stipules and ciliate glandular margins of the leaf of Bellyache Bush help distinguish Bellyache Bush from Castor Oil Plant.


Bodkin, F. (1986). Encyclopaedia Botanica. (Angus and Robertson, Australia).
Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne).
Everist, S.L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. (Angus and Robertson, Sydney).
Gardner, G.A. and Bennetts, H.W. (1956). The toxic plants of Western Australia. (West Australian Newspapers Ltd, Perth). P123-4.
Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (2007). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Second Edition). Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia. P150. Photo P151.
Lazarides, M. and Cowley, K. and Hohnen, P. (1997). CSIRO handbook of Australian Weeds. (CSIRO, Melbourne). 540.2.
Parsons, W.T. and Cuthbertson, E.G. (1992) Noxious weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P429-430. Photos.
Paczkowska, G. and Chapman, A. (2000). The Western Australia flora: a descriptive catalogue. (Wildflower Society of Western Australia (Inc), the Western Australian Herbarium, CALM and the Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority). P247.
Randall, J.M. and Marinelli, J. (1996) Invasive Plants. (Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Inc. Brooklyn). P. Photo.
Wheeler, Judy, Marchant, Neville and Lewington, Margaret. (2002). Flora of the South West: Bunbury - Augusta - Denmark. (Western Australian Herbarium, Bentley, Western Australia).

Managing weeds for wildlife conservation - Bellyache Bush (2011)


Collated by HerbiGuide. Phone 08 98444064 or for more information.