Pet owners and farmers across Central West New South Wales are being warned to be on alert for a sometimes forgotten yet highly toxic and resilient weed.

Key points:

  • Mother of millions is an invasive weed initially brought to Australia as an ornamental plant
  • It can cause heart failure in livestock and pets
  • It can still sometimes be found for sale online, from unwitting gardeners

Colloquially known as “mother of millions”, the drought-hardy and rapidly spread succulent bryophyllum can be distinguished by its spiked leaves and bright red flowers.

It was imported to Australia from Madagascar as an ornamental pot plant but quickly spread into bushland and farms around the state.

With rainfall across regional areas reviving parched soils after years of drought, dormant plants have sprung to life, topped by the distinctive bell-shaped petals.

“It’s probably looking pretty appetising for stock as well,” said Central West Local Land Services district vet Jillian Kelly.

However, the plant is highly toxic to livestock, pets and humans.

Dr Kelly blamed the weed for a case of cattle deaths near Gilgandra, north of Dubbo.

Poisoned cattle may look like they have a bellyache or pass bloody manure.

“The clinical signs are quite rapid,” Dr Kelly said.

“Sometimes people just find them dead. They don’t see any clinical signs. It is quite a rapid end.”

A paddock with trees and bushy, waist high plants with bell shaped orange-red flowers.

The invasive weed can take over as it has on this residential block.(

Supplied: Castlereagh Macquarie County Council

)

A state-wide pest

The senior biosecurity officer at Castlereagh Macquarie County Council, Andrea Fletcher, said mother of millions was an established and major weed in some coastal areas, on the north-west slopes and plains and in the central west of the state.

She fears some people are not aware of its risks. 

Map of NSW with blue dots indication distribution of Mother of millions across the state

Mother of millions a serious weed on the coast and the northwest slopes and plains of NSW.(

Supplied: DPI

)

“[It’s] probably not as well known as it should be,” Ms Fletcher said.

“It’s still popular and, unfortunately, because it’s so pretty and hardy and easy to grow … people are still doing that.

“I know even myself, growing up, granny had them in the pots on the balconies and out in those hard-to-grow little rockeries because it did so well.”

A stalky succulent with red bell-shaped flowers grows among a rocky outcrop.

Mother of millions has distinct stalky, red flowers.(

Supplied: Castlereagh Macquarie County Council

)

Work is being done to find a biological control for the weed but that is a way off. 

For now, Ms Fletcher says the best way to manage it is a combination of chemicals and removal by hand or fire.

The plants can re-establish from any one of the hundreds of tiny plantlets on its stalky stems and seeds are able to lie dormant in the soil, Ms Fletcher warned.

She said thorough removal was essential.

She said the risk and potential harm from mother of millions meant gardeners and farmers needed to take it seriously.

“There are serious penalties and fines … it shouldn’t be bought, sold, grown, carried or released,” Ms Fletcher said.

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