Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Originally from Western Europe, Gorse (Ulex europaeus), a Weed of National Significance, is a spiny yellow flowered shrub of 1-3 m tall, highly invasive with serious impacts on the environment, agriculture and the economy.
  • Spread mainly by seed, mature healthy plants can produce thousands of long-lived seeds per year, readily invading pastures, native woodlands to grasslands, in cool to warm temperate areas with rainfall from 450-2400 mm
  • Can form dense impenetrable thickets that exclude desirable species, domestic and native animals, and can provide cover for feral animals such as rabbits or foxes.
  • Control is difficult, requiring an integrated management strategy, with available options; chemical with a variety of application options, non-chemical including, mechanical, manual hand pulling, cultivation & competition, and fire; biological control, with long term follow-up critical.
  • All control programs should aim to reduce the amount of seed produced, with prevention the most cost-effective form of weed control, with quarantine early detection and good hygiene within infestations preventing spread.
  • Where Gorse crosses property boundaries, any eradication efforts should be coordinated with neighbouring landholders.
  • Tackle the small, outlying infestations first and there will be less follow-up maintenance in these areas as the seedbank will be smaller.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is an introduced erect, woody, rigid, spiny, dense shrub, commonly 1 to 3 m high, but can reach 7 m tall. It has a woody, deep, and extensive root system. The stems are initially soft, becoming woody and hardening with age. Bark on mature stems is rough and fissured length-ways or diagonally. Gorse has alternate to spiral arranged leaves on the stem that are simple (no teeth), linear (needle-like), 6-30 mm long and 0.5-2 mm wide. The leaf on the end of the stem can be up to 50 mm long with deep grooves ending in a sharp spine. Spines are also produced and both leaves and spines have a waxy coating and may be covered in fine hairs. As gorse grows, the lower branches die, but are retained by the plant so that the lower portions of older plants are covered with dead brown spiny lower branches.

Flowers are solitary, bright yellow, and pea-like, 15-20 mm long, growing from the bases of leaves, and have a coconut smell. Mature individuals develop approximately 1000 flowers per branch (Broadfield & McHenry 2019).

Numerous fruits (pods) are produced. Pods are hairy, green while developing, turning dark brown or black when mature, 10 – 20 mm long, and 6 mm wide. Each pod holds 2 to 6 seeds. Mature plants are capable of producing huge numbers of fruits (pods) and approximately 6000–18,000 fertile seeds are produced annually (Broadfield & McHenry 2019). The seeds are 3-4 mm in diameter, have a hard green or brown seed coat that is water-resistant which allows them to remain dormant in the soil for up to 30 years (CRC 2003; Spooner et al. 2005), and a small yellow to white appendage.

Recognition: This species can normally be recognised by the combination of the following characters; spiny leaves and branches; large yellow pea-like flowers with a coconut smell; hairy fruit (pods), 10 – 20 mm long, and 6 mm wide.

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

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Gorse is found in heathlands, hillsides and embankments in temperate regions free from severe frosts, It usually grows where rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year and in the range 650-900 mm. However, it is very adaptable and dense infestations occur along Tasmania's west coast where the mean annual rainfall is more than 2400 mm. The small dark green leaves are stiff and covered with a waxy coat, which helps reduce water loss. Together with its deep root system, this feature enables Gorse to flourish in areas with very low rainfall (CRC 2003). It grows very well on fertile soils as well as on light sands, heavy clays and disturbed and poor soils,  and on non-calcareous soils. In mainland states Gorse grows mainly along riverbanks, roadsides and other non-agricultural areas such as rail lines, quarries and mine sites (CRC 2003; DPI 2007).

It is an invasive weed of unimproved grazing land, neglected sites, roadsides and forest margins in higher rainfall areas. Gorse invades dry coastal vegetation, heathland and heathy woodland, lowland grassland and grassy woodland, dry sclerophyll forest, damp sclerophyll forest, riparian vegetation, and rock outcrop vegetation (DPI 2007; CRC 2003).

Are there similar species?

No other species in Australia are commonly mistaken for Gorse.

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is a Weed of National Significance. It is regarded as one of the worst weeds in Australia because of its invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic and environmental impacts. it is an invasive spiny shrub that forms dense impenetrable thickets (DPI NSW 2019) excluding desirable species, domestic & native animals, and people, and can provide cover for feral animals such as rabbits or foxes, altering fire regimes because of retention of dry branches and spiny leaves and the base of the plant..

Agriculture: Gorse is a major agricultural weed in Tasmania and parts of Victoria and a weed in other areas of southern Australia. It reduces pasture carrying capacity and has rendered many hectares of land useless for grazing (DPIW 2002; CRC 2003), blocking access to land. It readily invades native, semi-improved, improved pastures, neglected cropping lands, and neglected hobby farms. Gorse also infests forestry areas, interfering with tree establishment, competes with tree seedlings, restricts operational access, imposes costs for control, and is also a fire hazard.

Native ecosystems: Gorse is increasingly becoming a threat as an environmental weed in many national parks and other bushland areas. Gorse forms monocultures in native habitats, reducing diversity and impacting on native animals, and also alters fire regimes and intensity. Gorse readily establishes in riparian zones, wet and dry forest, healthy woodland, open grassy woodland to grasslands, heathland, and coastal vegetation.

Urban areas: Invades roadside and railway reserves and spreads along these corridors replacing vegetation.

How does it spread?

Gorse mainly disperses and grows from seed, and rarely by the spreading of the root system with some plant fragments able to regenerate. Most seeds fall around the plant but the pods can split open and shoot seeds for a distance of up to 5 m. In this way Gorse infestations spread rapidly, particularly when growing along water courses.

Gorse has a very large, long-lived soil seed bank. There are up to 40,000 gorse seeds/m2 or 400 million seeds/ha in the soil under a mature gorse bush at any one time (Gouldthorpe 2009). Gorse seed is found mainly in the top 2.5 cm of the soil, but occurs down to 15 cm depth (Gouldthorpe 2009). The seeds have a hard, water-resistant coating which allows them to remain dormant in the soil for up to 30 years (CRC 2003). Significant long-distance dispersal in Australia occurs when contaminated soil is carried on vehicles and machinery and by transport of contaminated topsoil and fill. Slashing and mulching account for short- and long-distance seed dispersal; seed can be thrown several metres by slashers. Gorse can spread into new areas from seed movement in water and on clothes and footwear.

Birds and ants are also known to spread the seeds. Sheep from gorse-infested areas carry gorse seeds and pods in their fleece (26, 28). Seed may also be transported in an animal’s fur or in soil carried on its feet. Gorse seed alone is too heavy to be blown around, but is dispersed by wind when plant fragments with seed pods are blown about (Gouldthorpe 2009).

What is its history in Australia?

Gorse was introduced to Australia as a hedge plant in the early 1800s but quickly spread out of control (CRC 2003) and now dominates large areas (DPIW 2002).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Control of Gorse is possible by chemical, mechanical, ecological and biological means. However, when mature flowering plants are removed, many seedlings will germinate from the soil seed bank and follow-up is critical. Integrated control methods combining techniques, with long term follow-up, is advised for success. Preventing spread in new areas is the best form of control and weed hygiene should always be employed. Where Gorse crosses property boundaries, any eradication efforts should be coordinated with neighbouring landholders to completely destroy all plants in the area and prevent re-infestation. Tackle the small, outlying infestations first. This allows a bigger area of land to be cleaned up first and there will be less follow-up maintenance in these areas as the seedbank will be smaller.

Chemical control: Herbicides can be applied either directly to leaves when plants are at least 500 mm high or by cut-stump treatment (cut and swab; cut and paint or cut stump methods), where the plant is swan off just above ground level and herbicide is applied to freshly cut stump. Sprays should not be applied when plants are in full flower or when bees are active. A number of herbicides are available for use on Gorse (DPIW 2002; CRC 2003). Foliar sprays normally require complete coverage of actively growing plants, used with a wetting agent, and the plant must be allowed to die over a long period before being removed or burnt. Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit (DPI NSW 2019). Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au.

Non-chemical control: Physical control: Hand pulling is only possible with small plants and seedlings, normally when the soil is damp and soft allowing easy removal. This is normally used after mature plants have been removed and results in subsequent germination of many seedlings. Mechanical control by clearing is a useful method of controlling large infestations of Gorse using bulldozers or tractors to rip and bulldoze the populations. Regular slashing or mowing is not effective in eradicating Gorse as plants will grow back vigorously once slashing stops (CRC 2003).

Competition and management: Grazing by sheep is moderately effective for controlling Gorse seedlings before spines are formed but high stocking rates are needed to force sheep to graze on Gorse rather than other pasture species. Grazing needs to be carefully managed to avoid overgrazing and subsequent pasture damage. Burning is often carried out in combination with grazing as it reduces the amount of leaves and stems and stimulates growth of soft green shoots, which are initially spineless and more palatable to stock (CRC 2003).

Cultivation: In agricultural situations where stands of gorse has been removed, cultivation with plough can disturb and kill underground roots and is useful for follow-up treatment for killing any regrowth and seedlings. However, some fragments may regrow. Cultivation in cropping is also effective at killing seedlings.

Mulching: Can be used to to suppress seedling germination but will not be effective for repressing or killing mature plants cut off at ground level.

Fire: Fire can also be useful in reducing dense thickets of Gorse to ground level to allow follow-up with animals or spraying of regrowth and to stimulate seed germination, allowing more seedlings to be sprayed the following year and reducing the seedbank (CRC 2003).

Biological control: Several biological control organisms have been released, including the Gorse Seed Weevil Exapion ulicis, Gorse spider mite Tetranychus lintearius, and Gorse Thrips Sericothrips staphylinus, all with some but limited success. Another thrip (same genus) of Portuguese origin is being reared for field release. A further two agents, a pod moth and soft shoot moth, are also under investigation for potential release into Australia (CRC 2003).

For further information see the Gorse National Best Practice Manual (available at: https://www.vicgorsetaskforce.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2-Gorse-National-Best-Practice-Manual.pdf )

Does it have a biological control agent?

YES. Four biocontrol agents have been released:  the seed weevil (Exapion ulicis), thrips (Sericothrips staphylinus), the soft shoot moth (Agonopterix umbellana), and the spider mite (Tetranychus lintearius) (Harvey,  et al 2023).

When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Gorse seeds mostly germinate in late spring to early summer and in late summer to early autumn, but significant germination can be stimulated following burning or mechanical disturbance (DPI NSW 2019). Gorse starts flowering when they are about 18 months old. Flowers can be produced at almost all times of the year but usually appear in two distinct periods – spring and autumn. In cool climates, Gorse may flower only once a year but flowers may be present on some bushes at other times under the right conditions. Seeds are usually released in hot or dry conditions. Individual Gorse bushes can live to a maximum age of about 30 years (CRC 2003).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Gorse occurs in all states and territories except the Northern Territory but it is more of a problem in Tasmania, particularly in the Midlands, and southern Victoria than anywhere else in Australia. In South Australia it is restricted and problematic in the higher rainfall areas in the Fleurieu Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley (CRC 2003). In New South Wales it is a major problem in national parks and reserves in the southeastern region and in the Blue Mountains (CRC 2003) and native areas such as Barrington Tops National Park.

Gorse has the potential to significantly expand its range to cover most of coastal southern Australia, including the whole of Tasmania, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, and most of southern South Australia. It is also present in the higher rainfall and cropping areas of south-west WA. The relatively small Queensland infestation could also expand its range throughout the cooler, higher rainfall areas (CRC 2003).

Where does it originate?

Gorse is native to Western Europe and the United Kingdom where it is widespread but generally causes few problems (DPIW 2002; CRC 2003).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?

Declared in all States and Territories.

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

Ulex europaeus

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Ulex armoricanus Mabille
  • Ulex compositus Moench
  • Ulex floridus Salisb.
  • Ulex hibernicus G. Don
  • Ulex major Thore
  • Ulex opistholepis Webb
  • Ulex strictus J.Mackay
  • Ulex vernalis Thore

Does it have other known common name(s)?


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