Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Snakecotton (Froelichia floridana) a native of the USA, is a densely hairy annual or short-lived perennial herb.
  • Its seeds germinate quickly after rains with rapid growth to flowering. A seed bank is maintained but the longevity of seed survival in the soil is unknown.
  • Plants can regrow from the crown if damaged and also from root fragments left in the soil after removal of the main plant.
  • The fluffy winged fruits are easily dispersed long distances by attachment to passing animals, as impurities in harvested pasture seed or by the wind.
  • Snakecotton prefers disturbed sandy soils and can colonise new areas very quickly.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Snakecotton (Froelichia floridana) is a moderately to densely hairy annual or short-lived perennial herb with a deep woody tap root. The stems are erect, up to 1 m (sometimes to 1.5 m) high, slightly hairy, swollen and often reddish at the leaf nodes. Leaves are oppositely arranged to each other, rounded at the apex, tapered gradually towards the base, 2-10 cm long and 1-4 cm wide. The upper leaf surface is slightly hairy and rough to touch while the lower surfaces are silky hairy. The base of the midrib and the leaf stalk are often tinged reddish.

The long erect, flowering stems (inflorescences) can be up to 40 cm long. Each branch of an inflorescence consists of a dense, cylindrical, white, woolly spike of flowers from 1-10 cm long and about 1 cm wide.

The flowers harden to become the fruit and fall from the inflorescence when mature. The mature fruit is flask-shaped, winged on each side, covered in long, curled, silky hairs and contains one seed. Seeds are up to 2 mm long and light brown (Standley & Ross 1983; Kleinschmidt 1979; Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; McCauley & Ungar 2002).

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

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Snakecotton prefers semi-arid subtropical regions with predominantly summer rainfall and light sandy soils. It is not found anywhere on heavy clays. As a weed it occurs in disturbed areas along roadsides, in degraded pastures, and in stockyards (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992). In its native range in the United States Snakecotton inhabits disturbed sandy soils and is restricted in the south to sand prairie or sand hill regions and sandy coastal areas (McCauley & Ungar 2002). Populations in Ohio can also be found along sand and gravel bars along streams, along railroads, on agricultural land, and waste ground (Burns & Cusick 1983).

Are there similar species?

A similar species to Snakecotton, known as Cottonweed or Slender Snakecotton (Froelichia gracilis), also native to North America, is occasionally naturalised in the Central Coast region of New South Wales. Slender Snakecotton differs from Snakecotton in that it is a small, erect to ascending herb to 25 cm high, with narrower leaves and shorter flowering spikes (Jacobs & Lapinpuro 2000).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Snakecotton is one of seventeen sleeper weeds identified by the Bureau of Rural Sciences (following consultation with the Australian Weeds Committee) which could have nationally significant impacts on agriculture if allowed to spread.

The ability of Snakecotton to produce seed quickly, allied with an absence of any form of dormancy, other than temperature dependence, can result in rapid colonisation of affected areas. Plants are unpalatable and have no feed value, but are eaten when little other feed is available (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

Agriculture: Snakecotton has been identified as having a potential financial risk impact on all forms of grazing land use (Cunningham et al. 2003). Climate analyses and comparison of overseas occurrence indicate Snakecotton is more likely to establish in drier parts of central Queensland and northern New South Wales. Dryland grazing and cropping landuses are most at risk from spread of this species into its potential climate range (FAO 2006; Cunningham & Brown 2006).

Native ecosystems: Little information is currently available on the potential environmental impacts or impacts on biodiversity of snake cotton. It is known to be naturalised and a problem warranting control in natural ecosystems in at least four locations in Queensland (Groves et al. 2003).

How does it spread?

Snakecotton is dispersed by the hardened mature fruits that detach from the flowering stems. The fluffy winged fruits are able to attach to wool, fur, clothing, bags and other materials and can be transported long distances by this means. Short range dispersal of the fluffy fruits can take place by wind. It is also spread as an impurity in pasture seeds, which has probably accounted for most of the longer distance dispersal in Australia (McCauley & Ungar 2002; Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

What is its history in Australia?

Snakecotton was first recorded in Australia near Yalleroi, Queensland, in 1959, and it is thought to have been introduced in buffel grass seed from the United States (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Chemical control: Snakecotton is susceptible to several herbicides and spraying actively growing plants gives good control (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992). Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au .

Non-chemical control: Physical control: Single or small groups of plants are best removed by digging or pulling when the soil is moist, before any seed are set. Care should be taken to remove all root material as Snakecotton can regenerate from root fragments left in the ground (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992). Management control: Occurrence modelling suggests that Snakecotton will be restricted to open, disturbed habitats (sandy soils only), such as roadsides, stockyards and any pastures that have been grazed bare during drought (Qld DAF 2016). As such, while these species could affect a substantial area, they are likely to be symptomatic of overgrazing. Wise pasture management could prevent these species from having major impacts

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Snakecotton seeds germinate after late winter or early spring rains, usually about the end of September. Early seedling growth is slow as the taproot develops but then increases rapidly, the first flowers forming about six weeks after emergence. Many plants act as annuals but some regrow from the crown if existing stems are broken and then survive through summer and winter to form new rosettes in the second year. Autumn rains can increase infestations significantly. A self-limiting allelopathic (inhibitory) system may operate in established populations as germination in areas where plants have been removed is very high (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

A persistent seed bank is maintained for between two to twenty years, although there is a lack of information on the longevity of seed survival in the soil (McCauley & Ungar 2002).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

From the initial Snakecotton introduction at Yalleroi, Queensland, buffel grass seed subsequently harvested in the area was contaminated and, by 1970, Snakecotton was found in several other areas. It is now present on deep sandy soil around Injune, Mitchell, Roma, Chinchilla, Yandilla and Yalleroi (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Cunningham et al. 2003). It is thought to currently occupy an area of more than 100 hectares across about six infestations. Field surveys are needed to confirm this (Cunningham & Brown 2006). Herbarium records also indicate another site near Barcaldine (AVH 2007).

Where does it originate?

Snakecotton is a native of the United States of America, from the southern and central plains through portions of the Midwest and southeast, particularly western and central Florida. It is most common in the southern United States (McCauley & Ungar 2002; GRIN 2007). Examination of collections from the United States indicates the range of Snakecotton has expanded substantially since 1900. This is most likely due to both natural exploitation of open habitats and unintentional human introductions (McCauley & Ballard 2002). It has been classified as a weed in Nebraska and the Great Plains (Stubbendieck et al. 1994). Snakecotton is also recorded as occurring in the West Indies (USDA 2007).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?

Not declared in any Australian state or territory

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

Froelichia floridana

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Gomphrena floridana (Nutt.) Spreng.
  • Oplotheca floridana Nutt.

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Cottonweed, Field Cottonweed, Cottontails, Florida Snake Cotton, Plain's Snake Cotton, Common Cotton Weed, Snakeweed

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