Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Paterson's Curse (Echium plantagineum) is an extremely widespread crop and pasture weed throughout temperate Australia.
  • It can be a very competitive and dominant species in a range of habitats, especially in areas where grazing pressure is low and soil fertility is high.
  • It contains toxins that can be poisonous to livestock, especially if eaten in large quantities.
  • In large infestations, whole landscapes can be covered with the purple flowers of Paterson's Curse. Such infestations may be appealing to look at but are a significant impost on effected land managers.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Paterson's Curse (Echium plantagineum) is an annual herb which grows up to 120 cm high. It has several erect stems that arise from a stout taproot and large rosette of leaves at the base of the plant. The stems and leaves are covered in hairs that can cause skin irritation if touched. The rosette leaves grow up to 30 cm long and up to 8 cm wide, have a stalk and are oval to oblong in shape. The stem leaves are narrower and smaller than the rosette leaves and are stalkless or stem-clasping.

Seedlings of Paterson's Curse have large, rounded, hairy cotyledons that are shortly stalked (Dellow 2005). The first true leaves of the seedlings are oval in outline, have a prominent mid-rib and are covered in long hairs (Dellow 2005). See Dellow (2005), Wilding et al. (1998) and Moerkerk & Barnett (1998) for a guide to identifying weed seedlings of temperate crops and pastures in Australia.

The trumpet-shaped flowers, up to 2–3 cm long, are pink in the bud and purple to blue when opened; occasionally white and pink flowers are seen. Each flower has five stamens, two of which protrude out of the flower tube whereas the other three are included inside.

The fruit consists of a group of 4 nutlets (seeds) surrounded by a persistent stiffly bristled calyx (the sepals collectively). The 3-sided seed is 2 to 3 mm long, is brown to grey in colour and has marked wrinkles and pitting (IEWF 2005). Up to four seeds are produced from each flower. In grazing land, large infestations of Paterson's Curse are often recognizable even from a distance, as they colour whole fields and hillsides purple (Cochrane 2001).


For further information and assistance with identification of Paterson's Curse contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

Purple, Blue

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Where native, Paterson's Curse is a common species of meadows, sandy places, and disturbed ground (Gibbs 1972). It is usually associated with open habitats (Weber 2003). In Australia, Paterson's Curse is a weed of roadsides, waste places and pastures, and sometimes occurs as a weed in crops (Piggin & Sheppard 1995). It prefers sandy, acid soils, although it may be found on a wide range of soil types. It is well suited to the Mediterranean-type climatic conditions that are found across large areas of southern Australia (Piggin & Sheppard 1995).

Are there similar species?

Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) is a closely related species which may be confused with Paterson's Curse. It has a blue instead of purple flower and the flowers are shorter (12-15 mm long) than those of Paterson's Curse (20-30 mm long). Italian Bugloss (Echium italicum) resembles Paterson's Curse but can be distinguished easily when it is in flower because the flowers are pale yellow or cream. Lucerne (Medicago sativa) superficially resembles Paterson's Curse when it is in flower. It is a similar sized plant with purple flowers, although the stems and leaves of lucerne are not hairy. For further information on identifying Paterson's Curse see Morley and Faithfull (2004).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Patersons' Curse 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, Paterson's Curse was not included as one of the 20 WONS. However, it remains a weed of potential national significance.

Agriculture: Paterson's Curse can form very extensive, dense, persistent populations in disturbed areas. It is a very competitive and dominant species, especially in areas where grazing pressure is low and soil fertility is high (Piggin & Sheppard 1995). Its high early growth rate, stout taproot and large smothering rosette leaves enable it to compete vigorously with seedlings of native and useful pasture species (Muyt 2001; Weber 2003). Early germination, coupled with a fast-growing root system, contribute to the competitive success of this species (Piggin & Sheppard 1995). Significant drought resistance of seedlings explains why Paterson's Curse is abundant in years when summer rainfalls are followed by periods of drought (Piggin & Sheppard 1995).

Native ecosystems: In Victoria, it is considered a potential threat to two plant species listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988: Diuris dendrobioides [as Diuris cuneata] (Wedge Diuris) and (Cullen parvum) [as Psoralea parva] (Small Psoralea) (Adair & Groves 1998).

It is sometimes considered a useful fodder species, especially the young growth which is readily eaten by stock, particularly sheep (DPIW 2002). However, it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to livestock. Consumption of the plant can result in chronic liver damage and mortality, especially if substantial amounts are eaten over prolonged periods (Auld & Medd 1987; Piggin & Sheppard 1995). Deaths of animals due to plant toxicity are rare and can be avoided with good pasture and livestock management (Piggin & Sheppard 1995).

Human and livestock contact with the abrasive hairs on the plant can cause dermatitis, itching and inflammation (Auld & Medd 1987; Piggin & Sheppard 1995). It can also trigger hayfever (Naughton et al. 2006). Nationwide it has been estimated that 33 million ha of land is infested with Paterson's Curse (Faithfull & McLaren 2004) and that the total cost of Paterson's Curse to Australia's sheep and cattle producers is estimated at $250 million per year (DSE 2004).

How does it spread?

Infestations of Paterson's Curse, if left to reach maturity, can produce copious amounts of seed. Seed production of up to 12 000 seeds per m2 in a single year has been recorded (Piggin & Sheppard 1995). Under dense infestations, seed banks of up to 30 000 seeds per m2 have been recorded (Piggin 1978). Most seed falls from the plants at maturity but some remains on the plant. Seed is spread by water, especially where plants grow in riparian habitats and on terrain where erosion and runoff occurs. Contaminated soil, fodder, vehicles and the fur and manure of livestock are thought to be the primary vectors for transport of Paterson's Curse seed in Australia (Piggin & Sheppard 1995; DSE 2004).

What is its history in Australia?

It is thought that Paterson's Curse was introduced into Australia intentionally as a garden plant sometime in the 1850s. It is listed in various Australian nursery and garden catalogues (as E. violaceum) from 1843 through to 1882 (Piggin & Shepard 1995). It is thought to have been naturalised in Victoria by 1858, New South Wales by 1859, Tasmania by 1869, Western Australia by 1889, Queensland by 1916 and the Northern Territory by 1956. A detailed history of Paterson's Curse introduction and naturalisation in Australia is discussed in Piggin & Shepard (1995).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Physical control: Physical control methods, such as hand hoeing and pulling are suitable for isolated plants. Flowering plants should be destroyed (e.g. by burning) as the seeds will continue to mature even after the plant has been cut, pulled or hoed. Grazing, particularly by sheep, is effective when managed correctly. Cultivation can also control Paterson's Curse.

Chemical control: Paterson's Curse is susceptible to a number of herbicides. Herbicides should be applied at the seedling or rosette stage and when the plant is actively growing to be most effective (DPIW 2002; DSE 2004). Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au .

Biological control: Paterson's Curse has been recognised as a target for biological control through a cross-jurisdictional government process. This allows activities to be undertaken to develop effective biological controls. A number of insects have been released since the first attempt at biological control in 1980 in an effort to provide long term control, particularly of large infestations (DPIW 2002; Naughton et al. 2006).

Numerous fact sheets and handbooks have been produced in Australia discussing the various management techniques for dealing with Paterson's Curse and preventing it from establishing. For further information on management of Paterson's Curse, including chemical, physical and biological control, see Morely & Stapleton (1999), the Department of Primary Industries Water and Environment Tasmania (2002), the Department of Sustainability and Environment Victoria (2004), Faithfull & McLaren (2004), Naughton et al. (2006) and the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (2007). Alternatively, contact the relevant weed management agency in your state or territory.

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Paterson's Curse may be found in all stages of growth throughout the year (Morley & Faithful 2004). Most populations follow an annual cycle with seedlings emerging in late summer-early autumn. Seedlings grow into rosettes which elongate and flower in late winter and early spring. These plants normally die in summer although where moisture is sufficient, they may continue to flower throughout summer and die in late summer-early autumn. Some seedlings emerge in late winter, spring and early summer, but many of these die due to lack of moisture. However, in habitats where moisture is sufficient, these seedlings may give rise to mature plants (Piggin & Sheppard 1995).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?

Found in all Australian states and territories.

What areas within states and territories is it found?

In Australia, Paterson's Curse is widely naturalised and often abundant throughout south-western Western Australia, central and southern South Australia, south-eastern Queensland, central and southern New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania (Piggin & Sheppard 1995). In the Northern Territory, it has been recorded between Alice Springs and the South Australia/Northern Territory border, where it is mainly confined to areas of roadside along the Stuart Highway (Piggin & Sheppard 1995; Gracie 1998). Paterson's Curse is also naturalised in South Africa, New Zealand, and North and South America (Weber 2003; Piggin & Sheppard 1995).

Where does it originate?

Paterson's Curse is native to central, southern and eastern Europe, the British Isles and the Mediterranean Islands. It is also native to northern Africa, temperate Asia, the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores (Gibbs 1972; Weber 2003).

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

Echium plantagineum

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

Echium creticum L. (misapplied by Lacaita, C.C. 1919, Journal of the Linnean Society, Botany. 44: 363-438., p.p.)

Echium italicum L. (misapplied by Meadly, G.R.W. 1956, Journal of the Department of Agriculture, Western Australia ser. 3. 5: 549-552.; Blackall, W.E. & Grieve, B.J. 1965, How to know Western Australian wildflowers: a key to the flora of the temperate regions of Western Australia. 3: lxii.)

Echium lycopsis L. (misapplied by Willis, J.H. 1973, A Handbook to Plants in Victoria Edn 2. 2: 536.; Curtis, W.M. 1967, Angiospermae: Plumbaginaceae to Salicaceae. The Student's Flora of Tasmania. 3: 495-496.)

Echium violaceum L. (misapplied by Ewart, A.J. & Tovey, J.R. 1908, Journal of the Department of Agriculture, Victoria. 6: 176.; Bentham, G. 1868, Flora Australiensis. 4: 385.; Schomburgk, R. 1889, Annual Report Adelaide Botanic Gardens..; Mueller, F.J.H. von 1858, Annual Report of the Government Botanist and Director of the Botanic Garden. Victoria – Parliamentary Papers- Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly..; Davey, H.W. 1922, Journal of the Department of Agriculture, Victoria. 20: 603-606.; Ewart, A.J. & Tovey, J.R. 1909, Weeds, Poison Plants, and Naturalised Aliens of Victoria. 51,77.)

Echium vulgare L. (misapplied by Moore, R.M. 1967, The naturalisation of alien plants in Australia. Proceedings and Papers IUCN 10th Technical Meeting. 82-97., p.p.; Macaboy, S. 1972, What Flower is That?. 121., p.p.)

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Salvation Jane, Purple Bugloss, Blue Echium, Blueweed, Blue Weed, Lady Campbell Weed, Plantain-leaf Viper's Bugloss, Purple Echium, Riverina Bluebell

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