Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • An Australian native, Chinese Shrub (Cassinia sifton), (previously included in Cassinia arcuata) is a shrub growing to about 2 m high with upright, white-woolly branches with clusters of small flower-heads that are deep red to pale brown or cream-coloured.
  • The leaves are small and narrow (to 15 mm long and 1 mm wide), sticky and have a curry-like aroma when crushed or rubbed.
  • It grows in open bushland and is inclined to become invasive on recently cleared land, roadsides and pasture, particularly under disturbed conditions such as overgrazing or after clearing for farming.
  • It is an agricultural weed since it is aggressive e.g. invades native pasture and competes with sown pasture, unpalatable and possibly hazardous to grazing stock, harbours pest animals and is a potential fire hazard.
  • In the agricultural context it can be controlled through pasture improvement on arable land.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Chinese Shrub (Cassinia sifton) is an upright woody shrub up to 3 m high (but more commonly 1–2 m high) and is a member of the daisy family. It is much branched from a main stem at the base. The older stems have a rough dark brown bark while the young stems are covered with very fine white matted hairs. The leaves are alternate on the stems and are aromatic with a curry-like scent when bruised. The leaves are slender, 2–15 mm long, 0.5–1 mm wide, with the leaf margins rolled under making the leaves almost cylindrical. Their upper surface is green, shiny, more-or-less hairless and sticky, while the lower surface is white and woolly and almost wholly hidden by the rolled margins.

The small flower-heads (2–4 mm long by 1–2 mm wide) are without 'petals' and contain 2 or 3 deep red to pale brown or cream-coloured tubular florets enclosed by 4 or 5 closely packed and overlapping rows of bracts (modified leaves). The inner bracts are usually deep red to brown or pale yellow-brown and hyaline (translucent) especially towards the tip. Numerous flower-heads are arranged in dense to loose, branched, upright to drooping, pyramidal clusters up to 14 cm long at the ends of stems and branches.

The very small seeds (2 or 3 per flower head) are cylindrical, less than 1 mm long and topped with a pappus (tuft) of barbed hairs (bristles) up to 2.5 mm long that spread at right angles to the seed at maturity (Cooke 1986; Cunningham et al. 1992; Everett 1992; Campbell et al. 1998; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

For further information and assistance with identification of Chinese Shrub, contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

Yellow, Brown, Red, Purple

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Chinese Shrub is a drought-resistant Australian native shrub of temperate areas which colonises poor, often acidic, skeletal (very shallow) soils after other vegetation is disturbed by clearing or overgrazing and often forms dense stands (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Chinese Shrub grows in disturbed soil in pastures, on stock routes, disturbed rangelands, roadsides, quarries, abandoned mines (e.g. areas disturbed by gold-mining), cemeteries, non-arable rural land and other cleared areas. It grows naturally on a variety of soils, often on dry, poor stony ground, in a wide variety of natural habitats (often as an understorey shrub), including eucalypt open forest, woodlands, mallee, Mugga Ironbark communities (on ridges with shallow stony soils), Black Box communities (on floodplains with grey clay soils), Grey Box and White Cypress communities (on loamy soils), Acacia scrub and on creek banks (Cooke 1986; Cunningham et al. 1992; Campbell et al. 1998; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; National Herbarium of New South Wales 2008).

Are there similar species?

Chinese Shrub may be confused with other species of Cassinia with short, narrow leaves, as well as other native daisy genera (e.g. Ozothamnus) and even non-daisy native shrubs when flowers are not present. It is usually able to be distinguished by its small leaves with a curry-like aroma and its often drooping plumes of brownish flowerheads. Cassinia theodori from the Nandewar Range, New South Wales, is closely related to (and could be a variant of) Cassinia arcuata, but differs in its leaves and stems being conspicuously grey or white with woolly hairs (Everett 1992). Specimens of Chinese Shrub may also be confused with Dolly Bush, also known as Common Cassinia or Dogwood, Cassinia aculeata (differs by having creamy white flowers); Cassinia adunca (differs by having creamy white flowers); Cassinia cunninghamii (differs by having bright yellow flowers); Cough Bush, Cassinia laevis (differs by having creamy white flowers); Cassinia ochracea (differs by having straw-coloured flowers); Sifton Bush, Cassinia quinquefaria (differs by having creamy white to straw-coloured flowers) and Sticky Cassinia, Cassinia uncata (differs by having creamy white flowers) which may have superficially similar-looking but usually longer leaves. Another difference is that many Cassinia species have their flowerheads arranged in more compact, almost flat-topped clusters, rather like a small cauliflower, instead of in pyramidal-shaped clusters (Auld & Medd 1992; Cunningham et al. 1992; Everett 1992; Puttock 1999; Southern Tablelands and South Coast Noxious Plants Committee undated).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Chinese Shrub was used on the Australian goldfields (in Victoria in the 1850s) by Chinese miners as roofing material for their huts, which gave rise to the common names Chinese Shrub or Chinese Scrub. Flowering branches are used in dried floral arrangements, and chopped stems are an effective filtering material in removing odours in some industrial processes (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Chinese Shrub is a native species but it establishes readily when natural vegetation such as forest or woodland is cleared. It can form dense stands and become a weed colonising cleared or overgrazed land and disturbed soil on roadsides, abandoned mines and pastures (Cooke 1986; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Agriculture: It grows well on land cleared for grazing and can dominate establishing pastures, increasing noticeably after periods of drought when other pasture species are weakened (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Plants are unpalatable to stock and therefore the carrying capacity of heavily infested areas is very low (e.g. it can be reduced by as much as 90% in regions producing fine wool), although it may provide some forage in times of drought. When grazed, it is suspected of being poisonous to lambs, ewes and cows, and causing dermatitis in sheep (Campbell et al. 1998; Cunningham et al. 1992; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Clumps of the weed are a fire hazard and provide harbour for pest animals, particularly rabbits (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Native ecosystems: Chinese Shrub can form dense stands that compete very strongly with other native species for light and moisture, thus preventing regeneration of a more useful cover (Cunningham et al. 1992). How Chinese Shrub impacts natural areas should be assessed with care, and take into consideration that Chinese Shrub is part of natural ecosystems. Its ability to effectively colonise areas after disturbance is part of its natural role in vegetation succession and regeneration (Kodela & Benson 2008, pers. comm.).

Because it readily colonises disturbed and bare soils, Chinese Shrub has some use in the reclamation of gravel pits or mine dumps (Cunningham et al. 1992).

How does it spread?

The small, light seed of Chinese Shrub is dispersed by wind and water. Seed can also spread by becoming attached to the coats of animals brushing against plants, e.g. is caught in the wool of sheep (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Southern Tablelands and South Coast Noxious Plants Committee undated).

What is its history in Australia?

Although native to Australia, Chinese Shrub becomes a weed when soil is disturbed by mining, land-clearing, roadside grading or overgrazing. It occurs over an estimated 600,000 ha in New South Wales, particularly on the Central and Southern Tablelands and Western Slopes where it is an increasing problem in disturbed areas, and on the low-fertility grazing lands of central Victoria. Chinese Shrub is not regarded as a serious weed in South Australia and Western Australia. It has been introduced to New Zealand. Taxonomic research has suggested that the plant in Western Australia might be a separate species (Campbell et al. 1998; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Scattered small plants of Chinese Shrub can be removed by chipping or pulling (if soil is moist) before they flower, taking care to minimise soil disturbance. This can then be followed by broadcasting pasture seed and fertiliser in the disturbed area to avoid reinfestation (Campbell et al. 1998).

Non-chemical control: In the agricultural context small plants can be effectively killed by cultivation while large plants need to be cut or removed mechanically and burnt before cultivation. After an initial ploughing, a fallow period with several cultivations is necessary to kill seedlings and regrowth, before the area is sown to a suitable pasture. Moderate grazing in the first few years of pasture growth helps the pasture become established and survive. Grazing and trampling by animals, as well as competition from pasture species, will generally control any seedlings of Chinese Shrub that do emerge (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). Maintaining strong pasture growth and avoiding over-grazing will discourage reinfestation (Southern Tablelands and South Coast Noxious Plants Committee undated).

Mechanical control: Slashing can provide control if carried out from mid-February to mid-March, after which pasture seed and fertiliser should be broadcast over the area in August. With slashing, it is necessary to cut below the lowest branch. Slashing is more damaging to plants over 1 m high, particularly if undertaken in dry weather. Slashing is likely to be necessary for at least two successive years to control regrowth, and should be restricted to flat land or gentle slopes with few large rocks. Dragging a heavy object over the plants in paddocks also kills many of them (Curnow et al. 1978; Campbell et al. 1998; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Land management: In pastures, control programs should encourage strong clover growth to increase soil fertility, and strong growth of grasses to compete with weed seedlings. Using phosphorus encourages clovers while lime depresses the growth of Chinese Shrub seedlings (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Burning: Burning on non-arable land removes mature plants but there will be seedling growth and regrowth from crowns (where stems and roots join), in which case chemical control, combined with aerial application of pasture seed and fertiliser might be appropriate (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). There are various control processes using burning practices, often combined with pasture competition (Campbell et al. 1998).

Chemical control: There are various potential chemical controls, but users should take into consideration possible impacts on pasture species or nearby native species such as eucalypts (Southwood 1970; Cook & Smith 1985; Plater 1993; Campbell et al. 1998; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

See the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au 

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

The seeds of Chinese Shrub are generally not dormant and most germinate in autumn, although some seedlings can be found at almost any time of the year. Seedlings are well-adapted to establish from seeds on the soil surface and do not establish when seed is buried in more than 15 mm of soil. Seedling growth is less rapid than most pasture species and it may take 5 years or more for plants to reach a height of 2 m. Plants do not flower until they are 2 or 3 years old. Chinese Shrub is an evergreen perennial shrub with its main flowering period in late summer and autumn, though flowers can also occur from spring and some plants may be found flowering at almost any time of the year (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). By late autumn, seeds are ripe and dispersal begins, with most seeds having fallen by mid-winter (Campbell et al. 1998).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Chinese Shrub is native to eastern and far south-western New South Wales (but mostly on the Tablelands and Western Slopes), the Australian Capital Territory, central and north-western Victoria, south-eastern South Australia and south-western Western Australia (Everett 1992; Campbell et al. 1998; Puttock 1999; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Western Australian Herbarium 2007).

Where does it originate?

Chinese Shrub is a native of south-eastern Australia and Western Australia and has probably not spread far beyond its natural range (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Cassinia arcuata

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

Cassinia paniculata Behr & F.Muell. ex Sond.

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Sifton Bush, Chinese Scrub, Chinese-scrub, Drooping Cassinia, Chinese Tea-scrub, Biddy Bush, Sifting Bush, Tear Shrub, Australian Tauhinu.

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