Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Tobacco Weed (Elephantopus mollis), a native of the West Indies and tropical America, is a slender, fast growing herb.
  • It is a prolific setter of seed.
  • Tobacco Weed readily becomes a pest of pasture, plants producing a thick ground cover and smothering grasses, leading to reduced pasture productivity.
  • Plants are not a nutritious feed for cattle.
  • Once plants have begun to flower, herbicide treatment is difficult.
  • Hairs of the plant may cause skin irritation.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Tobacco Weed (Elephantopus mollis) is a slender, fast growing herb. Mature plants generally reach 30 to 150 cm high. The stem is more or less erect, sparsely branched and becoming woody at the base when mature. It is covered with fine white hairs which may cause skin irritation when brushed against. Tobacco Weed does not produce a taproot but has fibrous roots extending from the crown of the plant. No tubers or rhizomes or below ground buds are produced.

Its leaves, oblong or oval in shape and 10–20 cm long and 2–5 cm wide, are scattered alternately along the stems, and occur mostly at the base of the plant. The upper surfaces are rough and thinly covered in fine hairs. The under surfaces are densely haired and resinous, especially on veins.

The small, inconspicuous white flowers (rarely pink) are in many-headed clusters at the tips of the stems and side shoots. Three small leaf-like bracts cup each cluster. Individual flowers are tubular with five lobes at the apex and are about 4 mm long. The style is extended and surrounded by the stamens.

After flowering, a large number of 3 mm long brown to greyish-black seeds are released, each with 5 fine straight, white bristle-like hairs on the top (Land Protection 2006).

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

Flower colour

White, Pink

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Tobacco Weed is mostly a weed of wetter pastures, disturbed sites and waste areas in warmer areas, particularly subtropical and tropical regions (Navie 2004; Land Protection 2006).

Are there similar species?

The most closely related species to Tobacco Weed in Australia is Elephant's Foot (Elephantopus scaber) which is found in far north Queensland and the Top End of the Northern Territory. That species usually has blue, larger flowers than Tobacco Weed and relatively smaller and fewer leaves (Navie 2004; Land Protection 2006).

Tobacco Weed may also be confused with False Elephant's Foot (Pseudelephantopus spicatus). However, False Elephant's Foot has smaller, narrow leaves, its flower-heads are stalkless and clustered in the leaf forks (axils) and the two longest bristles on each seed are s-shaped (Navie 2004).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Tobacco Weed was included in the list of 71 species that were nominated by state and territory governments for assessment as Weeds of National Significance (WONS). Following an assessment process, Tobacco Weed was not included as one of the 20 WONS. However, it remains a weed of potential national significance.

Agriculture: Tobacco Weed is a vigorous and aggressive weed of agriculture in many tropical and subtropical countries and is considered to be a major threat to the beef and dairy industries of north Queensland. It is an extremely competitive species with seeds capable of germinating under and growing through thick pasture with the Tobacco Weed smothering grasses and reducing pasture productivity. The plant is not a nutritious feed for cattle and reduces pasture productivity within a few years (Land Protection 2006).

How does it spread?

Tobacco Weed reproduces only by seed which are dispersed by wind, water, machinery, vehicles and by attachment to animals and clothing (Land Protection 2006).

What is its history in Australia?

Tobacco Weed was introduced into Australia as an ornamental and first recorded as naturalised in Queensland in 1989 (Groves & Hosking 1997).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Tobacco Weed is difficult to control because the plant is a prolific seeder and seed banks develop in the soil. Control must be repeated a number of times to exhaust soil borne seeds. Tobacco Weed becomes increasingly difficult to kill with herbicides once the plant has begun to flower (and possibly as early as at the beginning of stem growth) (Land Protection 2006).

Non-chemical control: In far northern Australia, the wet season may limit access to pastures and not provide opportunities for control until after seed production has occurred. Property hygiene such as ensuring machinery, vehicles and livestock are free of seed before moving between paddocks and other properties, is an essential factor in controlling spread.

Chemical control: In cultivation, Tobacco Weed can be readily controlled by spraying with herbicide, with careful follow-up monitoring needed as Tobacco Weed show a pronounced ability to regrow after treatment. Slashing has been used to switch reproductive plants back to the vegetative mode, to allow treatment with herbicide (Land Protection 2006).

Please 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)

Tobacco Weed seeds can germinate at anytime of the year, with sufficient moisture. Flowering too, can occur throughout the year although May appears to be peak flowering-time. In other tropical regions flowering is reduced or stopped by prolonged dry spells. Germination to reproduction time and the time ungerminated seeds remain viable is not known. However field observations have noted seed banks building-up in the soil (Land Protection 2006).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Tobacco Weed is mainly found in coastal and near coastal areas of north-eastern Queensland, currently in the Millaa Millaa area on the southern Atherton Tableland, at Cape Tribulation, in the Koumala district south of Sarina, and around Teemburra dam to the west of Mackay. It also occurs in northern Western Australia and north-eastern New South Wales at Murwillumbah (Groves & Hosking 1997; Navie 2004; Land Protection 2006).

Where does it originate?

Tobacco Weed originated from the West Indies and tropical America and is now a weed in much of the Pacific region, for example in Hawaii and New Caledonia (PIER 2006).

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

Elephantopus mollis

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Elephantopus carolinianus var. mollis (Kunth) Beurlin
  • Elephantopus hypomalacus S.F.Blake
  • Elephantopus martii Graham
  • Elephantopus pilosus Philipson
  • Elephantopus scaber var. tomentosa (L.) Sch.Bip. ex Baker
  • Elephantopus sericeus Graham
  • Elephantopus tomentosus L.

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Elephant's Foot

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