Patterson’s curse – The “beautiful” (not!) invasive alien

Patterson’s curse – The “beautiful” (not!) invasive alien

Not many people know that the beautiful fields of purple/pink flowers along our roadsides, in our gardens and on cultivated land is an invasive weed. Because of its beautiful flowers, they think it is harmless and beautiful. But it is not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Echium plantagineum, commonly known as Patterson’s curse, is a deep-rooted biennial native to Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. It was initially introduced to South Africa as an ornamental plant, and it fell in love with our Mediterranean climate. This long flowering biennial likes dry, sunny sites with poor soil.

The plant starts as a flat rosette of leaves and will grow up to 1 metre tall. From October to April, purple, lavender, pink and even white flowers appear. It produces a terrifying amount of seed, and as soon as the winter rain starts, the seeds begin to germinate. Patterson’s curse has become naturalised and is capable of reproducing and spreading without the assistance of people. The seeds are primarily distributed by wind, and most seeds germinate in the first year, but the seed can survive for as long as five years.

This rapid spread of the weed in areas home to horses, sheep and cattle is a big problem for the owners of these animals. Patterson’s curse produces purrolizidine alkaloides, as a defence mechanism against insect herbivores (moths, weevils, gall wasps, etc.). When eaten by animals in large quantities, it can causes death due to liver damage. Because the alkaloids can be found in the nectar of the plants, the honey should be blended with other kinds of honey to dilute the toxins. They also poison the soil with the alkaloid preventing further growth by other plants except themselves. 

The leaves and stems are covered with coarse, white hairs that can irritate the skin of humans and animals.

Echium plantagineum
Echium plantagineum

Controlling Patterson’s curse:

According to Invasive Species of South Africa, Patterson’s curse is listed as a category one invader plant. Furthermore, according to the Conservation of Agriculture Resource Act of 1983, plants must be removed and destroyed immediately, and trading of the plant is prohibited. 

Controlling the plant is very difficult as it flowers and seeds from October to April. The most effective way to control the weed is a combination of mechanical and chemical methods. However, both methods are costly and not always possible to implement. Small infestations can be carried out by hand and is best to remove before it sets seed. Remember to wear gloves and long sleeves and use a weeder tool like a handheld fork.

Patterson’s curse is a wolf in sheep’s clothing because of its beautiful flowers. It must be controlled and eradicated where possible. Please help us spread awareness!!

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