Paterson's Curse

Echium plantagineum L.

Synonyms - Echium lycopsis, Echium violaceum.

Family: - Boraginaceae.


Echium is from the Greek ekhis meaning viper and may refer to the seeds looking like a viper's head, the forked style looking like a viper's tongue, the snake repelling action of the plant or a herbal remedy that used roots plus wine as a snake bite antidote.

Plantagineum is Latin for Plantain like and refers to the Plantain like leaves.

Paterson's curse refers to it introduction by Mr Paterson in NSW and consequent weedy spread.

Other names:

Blue weed

Lady Campbell weed (WA)

Plantain-leaved Viper's Bugloss

Purple Bugloss

Purple Echium (WA)

Purple Viper's Bugloss (UK)

Riverina Bluebell

Salvation Jane refers to its salvation status in drought years when little else grew or the resemblance of the flowers to the bonnets worn by the Salvation Army women.

Viper's Bugloss (USA)


An erect stemmed, annual to short lived perennial plant 10-150 cm tall with purple, trumpet shaped, 2-3cm long flowers with 5 somewhat unequal and irregularly shaped petal lobes. 2 of the 5 stamens protrude from the flower. Occasionally white or pink to reddish flowers may occur. It has a large basal rosette of hairy, deeply veined, entire, oblong leaves. The basal leaves are up to 20 cm long but those up the stem are smaller and somewhat stem-clasping. The flowering stems are branched.

It is native to Europe and a common weed of agricultural land and roadsides, often covering entire paddocks with purple flowers in late winter and spring.



Two. Oval. Tip round. Sides convex. Base tapered. Surface hairy. The petiole is shorter than the blade.

First leaves:

Two. Oval. Tip rounded. Base tapered. Hairy. Short stalk.


Alternate. Forms a basal rosette that tends to wither as the plant matures and flowers.

Stipules -

Petiole - Mainly on lower leaves.

Blade - Oval to egg shaped, up to 300 mm long by 60 mm wide. Prominent lateral branching veins. Tip round. Short stiff hairs.

Stem leaves - Alternate, oblong to lance shaped prominent veins, smaller than rosette leaves, 30-90 mm long, with shorter stalks or stalkless. Upper leaves clasp the stem. Soft hairs. Grade into narrow, heart shaped bracts of the flower head.


One to many, erect, 100-1500 mm tall and usually 300-600 mm tall. May be branched from base. Bristly, often whitish hairs. Emerge from the basal rosette of leaves.

Flower stem - Tightly curled at the top and straightens as the flower buds develop.

Flower head:

Elongated, loose panicle of raceme like cymes with bracts or sometimes leafy. Flowers crowded along one side of a curved or initially coiled spike at the ends of stems.


Purple/blue sometimes white or pink. 15-30 mm long overall, tubular, trumpet shaped with 5 petals, 2 protruding stamens and 3 short ones. At ends of stems and in leaf axils on curved spikes.

Bracts -

Ovary - 4 celled, 4 lobed. Style is hairy, long and thread like, protrudes from the flower and is split in two at the tip

Sepals - 5 lance shaped, acute tipped, segments, 8-11 mm long, deeply lobed. Tubercle based bristles on the edges and midrib.

Petals - Variable colour from red changing to blue purple and often red near the base, occasionally white or pink, 15-30 mm long, curved funnel shaped, 5 lobed limb, lobes up to 6 mm long. Hairless inside, hairs on edges and veins.

Stamens - 5, 3 are in the petal tube and 2 are longer and protrude from the flower. Long filaments.

Anthers -


4 nutlets, surrounded by the persistent bristly calyx.


Grey or brown, egg shaped with a narrow tip, warty, wrinkled and in groups of four. Hairless. They fall from the flower head when mature.


Short, stout, fleshy taproot with many, smaller laterals.

Key Characters:

2 protruding stamens, 20-30 mm long flowers with a wide throat. Tubercle based hairs only.


Life cycle:

Annual (maybe biennial). Mainly germinates autumn/winter and forms large basal rosettes of leaves, crowding out companion species. Erect stems elongates in late winter to spring and flowers form from spring and into summer if moisture is available. Plants die with the onset of hot weather but some may survive over summer and re shoot from the base in autumn. Seeds germinating in spring are more likely to over summer and flower in the following spring.

The life cycle is quite variable and plants in most stages can be found at most times of the year.


Grazing or mowing in spring can delay flowering until the following spring.

Drought tolerant.


By seed.

Flowering times:

May to December in SA.

Mainly in spring and early summer in NSW.

Spring to summer in SE Australia.

Mainly September to November in Perth.

Mainly September to January in WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Most seed germinates readily but some may lay dormant for at least 5 years. Cultivation breaks the dormancy of some seed.

Several thousands of seeds/m2 in the soil seed bank under old stands.

Vegetative Propagules:



Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

The main spread is by seed moved in grain and produce or by stock. Seeds attach to wool and fur and will pass through the gut of animals. The initial infestation resulted from rapid spread along stock routes.

Tends to build up where cattle or horses rather than sheep are grazed. It establishes most frequently on areas that are bare and tends to decline on areas with good ground cover. (see photographs).

Over 30,000 seeds/m2 have been recorded in dense infestations.

It is favoured by an early break to the season and is tolerant of 'false breaks'.

Farmers report that it may be spread by birds because of its occurrence near fence posts where birds roost.

It is also spread in water flows, movement of earth and dumping of garden refuse.

It quickly expands to dense infestations on disturbed areas but is not usually a problem in healthy bushland.

Origin and History:

Western Europe and Mediterranean.



First Australian record is from Sydney in 1843. The first indications of its weediness were from near Gladstone in SA in 1889 and Mr Paterson's garden near Albury around 1890 where it had been planted about 10 years earlier.

In WA the first record was from Broomehill.

Avon wheatbelt, Esperance plains, Geraldton sandplain, Jarrah forest, Mallee, Swan coastal plain and Warren regions in SW of WA. Also in the Eremaean region of WA.



Mediterranean. Warm temperate. Most abundant in areas with winter dominant rainfall.


On a wide range of soils. More common on sands and sandy loams.

Plant Associations:


It occurs on over 220,000 ha of farmland in WA.


Fodder that is palatable when young but of poor quality. In marginal agricultural areas it is a valuable pasture species.

Produces nectar for a light coloured, high quality honey, however the honey may contain low levels of alkaloids.

Produces large quantities of pollen early in the season to help build up bee numbers for the season.



Weed of crops, pastures, orchards, fallows, roadsides, poultry farms and disturbed areas.

It tends to displace Everlastings and other annuals where it occurs in more arid areas.

Occasionally toxic to stock.


Horses, pigs and young or breeding stock should not be used for grazing Paterson's Curse especially after spraying when it is more palatable.

Contains alkaloids that are mainly a liver toxin but are also mutagenic and possibly carcinogenic. They vary between sites and seasons. Alkaloids are cumulative and can result in a sudden release of copper into the blood causing death. This may be precipitated by a stress such as pregnancy or exposure to lush feed. Toxicity may be cumulative with Heliotrope.

Pigs are most sensitive to poisoning followed by horses. Cattle, sheep and goats are only occasionally affected. British breeds or sheep are more susceptible (or they find the weed more palatable) than merinos.

Bristles may cause a skin rash in some people.

Bristles irritate the udders of dairy cows.

Seeds are difficult to remove from clover seed.

It may cause hay fever in some people.

Potentially damaging levels of oxalates and nitrates may also accumulate in the plant.


Oxalate poisoning.

Nitrate poisoning.

In horses; loss of condition, depression and circling. Most die once symptoms appear.

In pigs; depression and a swaying gait.

Death may occur quickly or after a week of illness. Recovery often takes months.


Don't allow pigs to have access to Paterson's Curse.

Supply of molybdenum as fertiliser or in stock licks reduces the occurrence of Paterson's Curse toxicity in infested areas.


Noxious weed of ACT, NSW, NT, SA, TAS, VIC, WA.

Management and Control:

Paterson's Curse often establishes after overgrazing, cultivation or other disturbance and then prevents other more desirable species establishing.

Cultivation and herbicides provide good control in cropping situations.

Multiple cultivations are usually required to control late germinating seeds.

In pasture areas herbicides in combination with vigorous pasture species can reduce it to low levels.

Graze with sheep rather than cattle to prevent seed set. Rams or wethers are more effective than ewes.

Mowing can reduce seed set but usually requires an early mow at the bud stage and a late mow to control regrowth.

Spray grazing, early in the season gives very economical reductions in broad acre pasture infestations.


Eradication strategies:

Isolated plants can be manually removed providing most of the taproot is extracted and burnt if flowering or seeding. Graze heavily with wethers or rams over spring to reduce seed production. Shear sheep and allow up to 7 days for seed to pass through the gut before introducing them to clean areas. Avoid introducing hay or feed that is contaminated with weed seeds to clean areas.

Spray graze pasture with 500 mL/ha Tigrex® in early winter before the weed has reached the 6 leaf stage and repeat if necessary. Spray top at flowering with 1 L/ha paraquat(250g/L) and repeat if necessary. Blanket wipers applying 5-10 g/ha metsulfuron(600g/kg) or chlorsulfuron(750g/kg) or 1 L/ha paraquat provide good selective control in spring.

For isolated plants, spray the leaves until just wet plus a 10 m buffer area, with a mixture of 100 mL Tordon®75-D in 10 L of water. This will kill most broad leaf plants, but not grasses, and leaves residual herbicide in the soil that controls seedlings for about a year. For larger areas spray with 0.5 g chlorsulfuron(750g/kg) plus 25 mL wetting agent in 10 L water in winter. This will also control seedlings for several weeks. Cultivation controls existing plants but also tends to encourage a new germination. Winter grazing tends to increase infestations. Glyphosate and metsulfuron provide good control of existing plants.

In cropping areas, graze heavily in spring. Spray top at flowering. Burn stubble. Cultivate at or before the break of the season. Spray with knock down herbicides. Plant a crop using as much tillage as possible. Apply herbicides in crop. Burn stubble. Repeat for 3 years. Spray graze pastures annually before the weed has reached the 6 leaf stage and repeat if necessary for at least another 3 years and spray top or manually remove flowering plants in spring.

Herbicide resistance:

Populations that are resistant to group B (sulfonylurea) herbicides are present in WA (Hashem, 1999). These developed after 6 consecutive applications of chlorsulfuron.

Biological Control:

Several bio control agents including a leaf mining moth (Dialectica scalariella), leaf eating weevil (Ceutorhynchus larvatus), a stem boring beetle (Phytoecia coerulescens) and 2 flea beetles (Longitarsus aeneus and L. echii) have been released and are helping to reduce its competitiveness.

The Paterson's Curse Crown Weevil has taken 12 years to establish in sufficient numbers to reduce the size, vigour and density of Paterson's Curse.

At present biocontrol agents are providing varying degrees of control with the Crown Borer causing the most damage.

Related plants:

Italian Bugloss (Echium italicum) has 5 protruding stamens, flowers smaller with a narrow throat, and is densely hairy. Paterson's Curse has only 2 protruding stamens. It is invasive in NSW and SA. Not collected in WA.

Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) has 4 protruding stamens (Paterson's Curse has only 2 protruding stamens), flowers several weeks later and over a longer period. Flowers are usually smaller and bluer. Less palatable and less competitive. Leaves narrower, without distinct branched veins and sessile. Hairier with short hairs as well as tubercle based hairs. Stems tend to be shorter and often unbranched. Usually biennial. Not collected in WA.

Echium candicans is invasive in NZ and basaltic cones near Cambertown, Victoria. Not collected in WA.

Echium pininana is invasive in NZ. Not collected in WA.

Echium simplex Not collected in WA.

Echium wildpretii is a pink flowered, biennial ornamental with velvety leaves that spreads in gardens. Not collected in WA.

Plants of similar appearance:

Amsinckia, Corn gromwell, Paterson's curse, Heliotrope.


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