[ASC-media] Media release: When good plants go bad

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Thu Sep 28 22:54:27 CEST 2006

Meat and Livestock Australia Media Release

29 September  2006


Australian gardens contain 281 introduced species of garden plants that present a significant risk to Australia's grazing industries if they escape from backyards, according to a new report released today by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). Over 70% of the plants were still available from nurseries in 2004.

The report, based on research by the Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management (Weeds CRC), says that at least one third of the species identified as weeds in the research are toxic and has the potential to harm or even kill Australian livestock. In addition nearly all the 281 species have already been recorded as noxious weeds overseas.

MLA Manager for Northern Production Research, Dr Wayne Hall, said that the most significant issue uncovered by the report is that over 70 percent of hazardous species are not currently recognised as weeds under either State or Commonwealth legislation. 

'We estimate that 70 percent of the approximate 2800 different weed types in Australia are escaped garden plants. Lantana and rubber vine alone are a problem in 34.6 million hectares or a staggering 20 percent of Queensland,' Dr Hall said.

Presenting the results at the 15th Australian Weeds Conference in Adelaide (24-28 Sept), Plant Profiler at the Weeds CRC and joint project manager Mr Rod Randall said that Australia's livestock producers faced a long-term threat from these plants. A 2001 report by The Centre for International Economics predicted that the infestations of just two of the 281 species (Mexican feathergrass (Nasella tenuissima) and cotton thistle (Onopordum nervosum) could cost Australia up to $82 million over the next 40 to 60 years.  

'This report follows new research which shows that the cost of weeds to the livestock industry has now reached $2.4 billion a year', Mr Randall said.

The report sets out three broad categories of weeds:
o	Group 1 - Invading  - those that are 'naturalised' (ie reproducing without human help) and still spreading - 24 of these are invasive garden plants 
o	Group 2 - Emerging -  those that are naturalised and just emerging as a problem - 10 of these are invasive garden plants
o	Group 3 - Future - those that are in the country, not yet naturalised, but pose a risk - 281 are invasive garden plants.

This report focuses on the 281 species in Group 3, and provides case studies of 11 garden plants that scientists believe could threaten the livestock industry if they spread. These include common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the horsetails (Equisetum spp.), the Hawkweeds (Hieracium spp.) and Giant miscanthus (Miscanthus floridulus).

Mr Randall said that a high proportion of Australia's problem weeds start in our gardens - about 65% in fact. 

Dr Hall said that MLA had just committed $4.2M to weed control through the proposed new Invasive Plants CRC.  'However, we would prefer to not have to make this type of investment in the future if we can stop weeds before they become a problem', he said.

'We hope this report will make all groups involved in the importation and sale of exotic plants consider the potential impacts of their decisions on both the environment and agriculture.'

Recommendations from the report include an education campaign to help graziers and land holders better identify and react effectively to new infestations of plants that threaten grazing areas. The report also urges gardeners not to cultivate ornamental species that have a significant risk of escaping. 

A guide to current recommendations on what species to avoid planting in gardens has been collated by the Weeds CRC and is now available at: www.weeds.crc.org.au/bushlandfriendlygardens/bfg_home.html

Case studies covered by the report:
Common name (amongst others)			Scientific name
Common milkweed					Asclepias syriaca
Horsetails (various types) 				Equisetum spp.
Bear-skin fescue					Festuca gautieri
Hawkweeds (various types)				Hieracium spp.
Elecampane						Inula helenium
Honeysuckles (various types)				Lonicera spp.
Giant miscanthus					Miscanthus floridulus
Mexican feathergrass					Nasella tenuissima
French tamarisk					Tamarix gallica
Drooping star of Bethlehem (example)	         	Ornithogalum nutans
Cotton thistle			  	 	        	 Onopordum nervosum

Media contacts: 
Wayne Hall, MLA Manager - Northern Production Research 0407 727 992 
Rod Randall - Weeds CRC (08) 9368 3443. 
Peter Martin 0429 830 366, or Rita Reitano 0419 184 153.

Further information, including the full report, can be found online at www.mla.com.au/feedandpastures
Weed images are available on request from MLA media affairs: Inessa McElligott imcelligott at mla.com.au or (02) 9463 9107.

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