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Friday, 10 July 2015

A short history of Paterson's curse

Paterson's curse, Echium plantagineum, Gundagai NSW
I am, as my friends know, a biologist by training and a writer about science by avocation. Some people are fooled because I often write about the histories of things.

Now as a rule, unless I am stomping on the rogues and cheats at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum who took my original and meticulously researched text, without permission and slapped their own copyright claim on it, I am fairly easy about sharing.  All people have to do is ask, unless I hand stuff out for free, and this is about just such a free offer, together with a sample.

This is about one of the ways I share: a huge volume, 1.5 million words of it, of research material. I call the collection Many Voices, because I have collected together a vast array of primary source material: either eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Australian history. This is an a (currently) 22 meg PDF, and there's a link at the end.

Because I am going travelling shortly, I have just put together the latest version, and when I mentioned this, a former colleague from the Powerhouse Museum asked if I had got around to dealing with the plant popularly known, either as Paterson's Curse or Salvation Jane.

I hadn't, but I made a note of it to follow up, but then there was more discussion, I started checking things, and before long, there was a whole new chapter of notes.

I may write it up at some stage, but I don't mind if others jump in as well. Here, as they stand in mid-July 2015, are the Salvation Jane files. Most of these are news stories, but I have some other leads that I will follow later. First though, a bit about the purpose of these files:

My intention is to provide food for prepared and hungry minds. These are starting points, not a total collection, and here you will find the ammunition you need to carry on your own hunt: you have places, names (of people and plants), approximate dates and more. There is enough here to make conclusions, but I have given very little of my own conclusions here.  In short, you are in the land of Seek and ye shall find.

OK, enough of that: here's the brain food:


An early warning, news report, 1894

[A little research reveals that Echium creticum is a synonym for Echium plantagineum, the name now used for Paterson’s curse.]
A New Noxious Weed — Mr. Edward Salter, of Mamre Brook, writes as follows :— 'I notice that a plant growing about a foot high with dark green foliage and a pretty purple flower is taking possession of land in the neighbourhood of Ziegersdorf, near Tanunda. In one field it has already covered about two acres of ground, and it monopolizes the roadside for a considerable distance. I learn that it is to be found in various parts of this district, and already may claim to be numbered among the noxious weeds of the colony. I wish to call attention to this pest, and urge the people of these and other parts where it may be recognised to extirpate it before its destruction becomes very costly or impossible. It threatens to be a worse pest than the yellow oxalis, which has already seriously discounted the value of hundreds of acres of our best lands. I submitted the plant I have described to the Secretary of the Central Agricultural Bureau (Mr. Molineux) for identification, and he kindly replied saying-— 'The plant sent is Echium creticum. Escaped from cultivated garden. Terrible for spreading in light sandy soil. Not poisonous, but useless fodder. It has been said the pollen colours honey blue."

Paterson’s curse at Jingellic, news report, 1900

[Note: assorted minor parochial matters have been cropped: look for ellipses and asterisks.]

The monthly meeting of the Progress Committee was held at the Bridge Hotel on the 3rd inst. Mr. Walker presided. The minutes of the previous meeting having been confirmed, the consideration of the correspondence was proceeded with…


A letter from the Lands Department re compulsory destruction of rabbits, stating that a petition showing that the majority of landholders in the district are desirous that the work of rabbit destruction should be made simultaneous and compulsory, would receive careful consideration. Mr. C. Holman had no doubt that the majority of landholders were of opinion that this was the only way to cope with the nuisance, and he moved that a petition embodying these principles should be drawn up and circulated for signature. This was seconded by Mr. Stephenson and unanimously agreed to…


Mr. C. Holman then called attention to the growing prevalence of the weed known as "Patterson's Curse" on the Murray and other roads in the district, and said that when this weed once obtained a footing it was very hard to get rid of it, and that no grass or herbage could grow with it. He therefore proposed that the superintendents of roads at Albury and Tumbarumba should be requested to instruct the maintenance men to root it up whenever it was found. This was seconded by Mr. M'Callum and carried. Mr. Walker remarked that when the weed was eradicated from the roads it would be necessary to take steps for its destruction on the stock reserves.


Recognition of a new weed, news report, 1900

NOXIOUS WEEDS. Some time ago Mr. H. S. Ranford forwarded to the Under-Secretary for Lands a couple of weeds which, he said, were spreading through the Broome Hill and Katanning districts. The weeds were in due course forwarded to the Department of Agriculture, where they were handed over to the botanist (Dr. Morrison), who has reported as follows: "1. Parentucellia (or Bartsia) latifolia, an introduced weed already known in the colonies, and a native of Southern Europe. Great Britain, South-West Asia, and North Africa. It is suspected of being deleterious to stock, but proof is required. Appears to be becoming very prevalent in this and the other colonies. 2. Echium plantagineum, 'Purple Echium,' a species of Viper's Bugloss, indigenous in south of Europe, and extending to the Channel Islands and Cornwall. Echium vulgare, 'Common Viper's Bugloss.' used to be employed as a medicine to purify the blood, and in cases of snakebite. No. 1 appears to be causing some trouble to cultivators, and should be destroyed before it has a chance to scatter its plentiful seed. The best remedy will be, in the case of both plants, to pull them up early and burn them."

The W. A. Noxious Weeds Bill, news report, 1900


From different parts of the country communications have been received, expressing the hope that the Noxious Weeds Bill will be put in force without delay. The evil has not yet grown to serious proportions, except, possibly, in one district, and if the matter is vigorously taken in hand now a very small expenditure will be sufficient to exterminate those weeds. We understand from the Lands Department that as soon as the Bill is approved by the Legislative Council, circulars will be despatched to the various roads boards and municipal councils, asking them to recommend to the Minister what weeds should be considered noxious in their districts, as provided by the Act, so that immediate efforts may be made to exterminate them.

Some time ago Mr. H. S. Ranford forwarded to the Under-secretary for Lands a couple of weeds which, he said, were spreading through the Broome Hill and Katanning districts. The weeds were in due course forwarded to the Department of Agriculture, where they were handed over to the botanist (Dr. Morrison), who has reported as follows: -

"1. Parentucellia (or Bartsia) latifolia, an introduced weed already known in the colonies, and a native of Southern Europe, Great Britain, South-West Asia, and North Africa. It is suspected of being deleterious to stock, but proof is required. Appears to be becoming very prevalent in this and the other colonies. 2. Echium plantagineum, Purple Ecbium,' a species of Viper's Bugloss, indigenous in south of Europe, and extending to the Channel Islands and Cornwall. Echium vulgare, 'Common Viper's Bugloss' used to be employed as a medicine to purify the blood, and in cases of snakebite. No. 1 appears to be causing some trouble to cultivators, and should be destroyed before it has a chance to scatter its plentiful seed. The best remedy will be, in the case of both plants, to pull them up early and burn them."

A probable report on Paterson’s curse, news report, 1903

[Stockwell is close enough to Ziegersdorf to make this a likely sighting.]

Stockwell is an unpretentious township off the main road to Blanchetown and commercially consists of one store, owned by Mr. G. Heinrich: a blacksmith's shop, conducted by Mr. Jungfer; and a hotel. The state school is now under the superintendence of Mr. Kumnick, who has succeeded Mr. Drinkwater (transferred to Nuriootpa). The postal arrangements are presided over by Miss McCord. Judging by reports the tide of affairs in this snug little town runs vary smoothly. Religious matters are not overlooked, as several places of worship—English and German— are scattered about the town and district. Tight's Pass is only a few miles distant: and equally close are the quaintly named settlements of Neukirch and Ebenezer. The most remarkable feature, in addition to flourishing crops, is the abundance of blue-flowered weed which lines the road for miles at a stretch. This growth is yearly becoming more dense, and the seeds are scattered over adjacent land to the detriment of the soil. Efforts have been made to eradicate it, but unless the several district councils take united steps to clear the highways of the weed there is I little prospect of the pest being kept in check.

Another wrong identification for Paterson’s curse, news report, 1904

Another Vegetable Pest. — Mr. E. V. Ffrench, local Inspector of Stock, recently forwarded to the Department for examination and identification a weed known as "Patterson's Curse."

The Government Botanist reports as follows : — "Name Echium Violaceum, Linn. 'Purple Bugloss.' Introduced from the Mediterranean region. It is not a poisonous weed, but unpalatable on account of its harsh nature. The only way to eradicate plants such as these is to hoe them out before they seed. I recommend that it be hoed out as fast as it makes its appearance on new ground.'

Another common name for Paterson’s curse, news report, 1905

Weeds are obnoxious, and should be killed outright wherever possible. Vipers bugloss, known as the purple weed, which flourished around Stockwell, and has spread half-way to Tarlee, is said to have spread from a Barossa garden, where it was cultivated as a garden adorner.

An account of Paterson’s curse, news report, 1905

"Patterson's Curse."

"Australian" writes: — The countryside up Wagga way just at present is fairly covered with a weed topped by a purple flower. It is called by the people in these parts "Patterson's Curse," and according to local naturalists has a history. It is not altogether unsightly when you see the first few patches of it, but when you encounter miles and miles of country ornamented with it you get tired of it.

In the domain of Nature, as in other things, familiarity breeds contempt. When the worthy Patterson (for so the story runs) first imported a few roots of the flower and carefully planted them in his garden, his neighbours no doubt admired his taste and enterprise. And they were quite right. Even the gentle rabbit was a pet at one stage of Australia's history. It is hard to believe it now, but it is a fact nevertheless.

Moderation is undoubtedly a magnificent thing. If the rabbit, and the sparrow, and the purple flower aforesaid — as well as the drunkard and the Socialist— recognised the real magnificence of moderation there would be a refreshing diminution of our national troubles. But Patterson's flower displayed a distressing ignorance of the value of self-restraint (if inanimate nature can be so charged), and soon overran the limits of the pioneer's garden.

It spread with such alarming rapidity that the settlers found it necessary to get a distinctive appellation for it, and so a worthy pioneer's name is carried down to posterity linked to a weed that is a curse in name if not in reality.

It is another proof of Shakespeare's conclusion that the evil men do lives after them, whilst the good is often interred with their bones. Some of the characteristics of "Patterson's Curse:" It grows in greatest profusion in a season like the present, when there is abundance of grass. In drought time it is scarce as clover, so that its utility as a fodder cannot be determined.

The stock will not eat it now, because there is plenty of good old-fashioned grass, and when the latter is scarce "Patterson's Crimson Curse" (as I heard it called) (simultaneously diminishes. One good thing about it, however, is that it is easily checked. I wish we could say that about the rabbit curse.

A wrong identification, news report, 1907

[At least in the early years, the species in question was often incorrect. Paterson’s curse is NOT Echium vulgare.]

TALUNGA, Jan. 14.                                                     

Present—Crs. T. Pflaum (chair), W. Jamieson, W. Redden, J. Gregory, and G. H. Bennett. Complaints having been received that the plant known as "blue weed" (Echium Vulgare) is spreading through the district, action to be taken to have the plant proclaimed a noxious weed.

A description of Echium plantagineum, Black, 1909.

Echium plantagineum: Roadsides, pasture, — Sept. – Dec., sometimes also in winter.—Mediterranean region, extending up the west coast of France to Jersey. Known as Salvation Jane in our northern agricultural areas, and as Blue-weed or Paterson’s Curse in New South Wales.

— J.M. Black, The naturalised flora of South Australia. Adelaide: J. M. Black, 1909, 112. (Sourced from Hathi Trust.)

‘Paterson’s curse’ declared a noxious weed, news report, 1909


Echium plantagineum, commonly known an 'Patterson's Curse,' a weed which has been the cause of considerable controversy in the 'Border Morning Mail' from correspondents upholding and denouncing its value as a fodder plant, has, been declared a noxious weed within the area of the Lockhart shire.

Adelaide weeds, news report, 1910



[By F. S. Salisbury M.A ]

Every settlement made by civilized men in a new country is a distributing centre for the plants of their mother land. If every European were to leave Australia tomorrow the old-world vegetation he had introduced would outlast the most massive architecture as a monument of his sojourn. Black Plantain is known as the White Man's Foot; Tufted Vetch grows to-day on the shores of Greenland, where the adventurous Norsemen brought it in their tenth century voyages over the Atlantic; and no rash geological theories should be launched millenniums hence, when the Norfolk Island Pine is discovered clothing the slopes of our Australian hills. We must be there to explain!

New plants are constantly bring introduced into Australia, from all parts of the world with which she has traffic. Some are brought in on purpose, and others by accident. They come in through the ports, and are let loose wherever there is a town, or village, or homestead to which goods are sent. Once escaped, they travel especially along the wastes by roadsides, and stock routes and railways. The roads leading out of Adelaide contain many of these vagabond plants that are on the march.

—An Adulterant of Coffee.—

A ragged, untidy-looking fellow redeemed by beautiful flowers of pale cornflower blue is the succory, or chicory (Cichorium intybus). The flowers as large as those of sow thistles, evidently belong to the same order of composite plants. They sit close down singly or in pairs on the stems and branches in a way that adds to the ungainly impression of the whole. It is like a man's head right down between his shoulders without the intervention of a neck!

We need not spend long over the part of the plant which is above ground. Just notice how tough and almost woody is the stem by comparison with the green, hollow sow thistle; but the latter is an annual, whereas succory possesses a perennial stock. Most of the leaves of succory are in a rosette at the root, with deep, pointed lobes and coarse teeth. The salad endive is perhaps only a cultivated variety of them.

The long stout taproot is fleshy and brittle, but with a little trouble we can get it up entire. This root is the principal adulterant of coffee. Many people prefer the mixture. All that is necessary is to roast the root and grind it; so, if you like to make an amateur experiment, there is plenty of raw material along, the suburban roads. Cheap though it is, this adulterant is itself adulterated with things still cheaper — dock roots, for instance, which are similar in form.

—Yellow-Flowered Relations.—

Wandering along the wastes together with succory are two other composites already mentioned as garden weeds. Once or twice, I noticed striking examples of the red tinted form of sow thistle. There is another variety (Sonchus asper) of which I should like to hear locally. Its leaves are usually darker, with crisped and more closely toothed margins, and the stem clasping ears are more rounded and prickly instead of being prolonged into a point. But a seeding piece should be obtained, if possible, as the final determination rests on a minute difference in the fruits. Then there is bristly ox tongue again.

Two further points must be noted. Besides the green bracts that closely embrace the flowers, there is a second whorl of fewer but much broader ones below. These outer bracts are usually five in number, but a look out should be kept for specimens with four, only. The second point concerns its name.

Even scientific names are sometimes interesting, and the ox tongue is called Helminthia echioides, or the Echium-like Helminthia, because its foliage, and especially the short heartshaped stem leaves, so closely resembles that of the Echium which is growing alongside of it.

— Paterson's Curse —

Looking at the handsome purple-blue flowers of the plantain-leaved viper's bugloss (Echium plantagineum) you would say the title given to it above is as unkind to the plant as it is to Paterson. But handsome is that handsome does, and although the young leaves afford good fodder, the viper's bugloss soon becomes much too rough for stock, and, while useless itself, kills the grass beneath it.

There are various ways of achieving fame, and when the Patersons on their small farm near Albury introduced this pretty 'blue weed' as a garden flower 30 years ago they little imagined their name would be associated through it with one of the worst weed-pests in the district. The likeness to bristly ox tongue suggested in the scientific name is also recalled in the popular designation, for bugloss, derived from two Greek words, signifies nothing more than 'ox tongue.'

But the plants have no botanical affinity, and their flowers are utterly unlike. Five years ago Mr. Maiden (the Government Botanist of New South Wales) only mentioned the Flinders Range for its South Australian distribution. If that means that it is as yet unknown in the fertile plains, the sooner its outward march from Adelaide is checked the better. It has already got loose in the southern suburbs; and, although high cultivation may keep it from the fields in the immediate neighbourhood, the plant will soon be on the tramp 'out back,' where it will quickly get beyond control.

Experience shows that these weeds travel along the unwatched roads, As the worst and most extensive experiences of viper's bugloss nave been in New South Wales, the pamphlet on the subject published in 1905 by Mr. J. H. Maiden is worth attentive perusal. From various reports quoted there I take two sentences only, of ugly importance. "One patch (near Albury) must have covered something like 100 acres, at a rough estimate. Wherever the plant gets a fair hold it completely smothcrs the grass."

— Holy Thistle —

Although not at present in flower, the holy or milk thistle is so exclusively cultivated for the beauty of its foliage, that it calls for description on sight of its leaves alone. Moreover, it is yet one more composite on our list, and a prickly one to boot. But the prickles are merely the spinous margins of the lobes. The surface of the leaf is a deep, shining green, reticulated with beautiful milk-white veins.

You would think that a gardener who sowed thistles, instead of grubbing them up, was cursing the ground already cursed enough for his sake. But holy thistle is an annual, or at most, a biennial, flowering only once from the same stock. It is, therefore, easily controlled, and the landscape gardener can safely avail himself of its handsomely marbled foliage. It remains to be seen whether it will behave as well now that it has, so to speak, shouldered its swag, and started off down the street on its own, for the holy thistle is no uncommon eight by the suburban roadside.

— A Thistle Pest —

Although from an agricultural point of view, we found sow thistle to be one of the few useful plants of a comparatively useless order, another composite— the star thistle (Centaurea calcitrapa) has the distinction of being one of the very worst weeds in Australia.

Unfortunately, it is common on wastes, and along roadsides in and near Adelaide, and the only check on its multiplication seems to be the flocks of small birds that feast on its seeds. No grazing animals help to keep it down; for, not only is the foliage prickly, but the small thistle-like heads of purple flowers are defended by, long, stout spines, terminating the involucral bracts, and standing out in all directions at right angles from the flower heads.

Star thistle does not appear in isolated specimens like sow thistle and holy thistle, but usually forms thick patches or colonies. The difference is due to the fact that the two latter plants have a feathery pappus by which the ripe seeds of a single plant are wafted over a wide area by the wind. Star thistle seeds have no such equipment, and fall near at hand round the parent plant.

Nevertheless, they are transported to long distances by roads and stock routes in a very effective manner. If you force your way through a ripening dump of star thistle, several whole heads are almost certain to break off, and stick into your clothing by their sharp spines. Travelling stock similarly catch the heads in their coats; and, if they are sheep, their wool is also caught by the plant, and matted and torn.

I wish we could describe it as a rare annual or biennial, such as it is in the British flora but it is very common round Adelaide, and apparently quite unchecked on waste lands. Its effectiveness in tearing the wool of sheep is increased by the spines on the its involucre having two small prickles at their base, so that they are as difficult to withdraw when once buried in the fleece as a whale harpoon or a barbed arrow from the wound. It is strange to find this plant so flourishing along the public roads, in view of the South Australian Act passed as long ago as 1887, and directed against star thistles, though apparently meant at the time for a yellow species.

— The Herb Generall —

I believe that almost exhausts the list of composites— good, bad, and indifferent flowering just now along our roadsides for, with the sole exception of Paterson's curse, all the plants described in this paper belong to that vast order. But an addition, a cultivated marigold (Calendula officinalis) has made its escape in some parts. I found a stray plant of it by the road up Glen Osmond at 600 ft. above sea. It is justly a favourite, because of the rich, orange ray which fringes the almost black-tipped disc of tubular flowers.

There is an interesting subdivision of function in these flower heads. The tubular florets in the centre have anthers only, while the seed, is produced by the two or three ranks of ray florets, to which is assigned also the business of advertising for visitors. When the outer florets of a composite are specialized into rays you may know that the plant is trying to secure cross-fertilization by insects.

Common groundsel has no ray, and therefore is seldom visited by insects, although it produces honey; but self-fertilization is regular and effective, and full heads of good seed are formed. Both, here and in Europe — of the south of which it is a native— the marigold flowers all round the calendar. It was popularly supposed to blossom on the first day— called after the Latin 'the Calends'— of each month, and hence its scientific name.

The plant's species name, officinalis, is applied to many herbs employed medicinally. Marigold had a high reputation. In his 'Speech of Flowers' Fuller refers to "the many and sovereign virtues in your leaves, the Herb Generall in all pottage." It is said to be an excellent remedy for wounds, burns, and ulcers, and to have been employed by the surgeons during the American civil war with good results.

Fair is the gilly flour, for gardens sweet,
Fair is the marigold, for pottage meet.

Noxious in South Australia, news report, 1910


The blue weed, which has been described as like the Canterbury bell, has become so prevalent that the Government has decided to declare it noxious. Mr. W. L. Summers reports:—
"The plant, so far as I can ascertain, Echium plantagineum, know here as blue weed. Salvation Jane. &c, and in New South Wales as blue weed or Paterson's Curse—the latter after the family that introduced it to Albury district about 30 years ago. It is an escape from garden cultivation, and is now very widely distributed throughout New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. In this State it has been prevalent to the south of the city, round Gladstone, Laura, and the adjacent districts, near Tanunda, and in other parts for many years. During the past few years it has been reported from a number of different districts, even as far north as Johnsburg, in the watercourses.

Echium plantagineum is a biennial or perennial plant, with coarse, hairy leaves, which lie fairly close to the ground. It sends up a flower stem of from 1 ft. to 4 ft. in height, according to the nature of the soil and the moisture conditions. Although stock eat it to a certain extent when young, and when there is little or nothing else green, it cannot be regarded as being of any economic value, as it smothers out better herbage, and, in many cases, has completely ruined valuable pastures.

Attention was called by the late Mr. Molineux fully 15 years ago to the necessity for cheeking the spread of this weed, and it is much to be regretted that his warnings have been neglected, as in many districts, where a few hours' work would have destroyed the plants, it would now cost almost as much as the land is worth to do so. The best method of ridding the land of the weed where cultivation can not be practised is to cut it off just below the ground when the flower stem first appears. A mattock or sharp chopping hoe will be found suitable for this work. In New South Wales it is stated that paddocks have been cleared of the weed by close grazing with sheep while the plant is young. This practice requires to be continued for several years to eradicate the plant."

A vote for destruction, news report, 1910

[This appears to be an early use of “Salvation Jane” as the primary name.]


In the House of Assembly yesterday afternoon the Commissioner of Crown Lands moved in the direction of having blue weed (Echium plantagineum) proclaimed as a noxious weed. He contented himself with formally moving the necessary motion, which met with some opposition on the grounds that the weed was not stated to be poisonous and that it would be a great burden upon farmers to eradicate it. Later on the Minister read a report on the plant as made by Mr. Summers (secretary to the Department of Agriculture), and published in yesterday's "Daily Herald." The plant was also known, he added, incidentally as "Salvation Jane." The motion to eradicate "Salvation Jane" was carried on the voices.

Praise for Paterson’s curse, news report, 1910

[By Agricola.]

Few weeds have attracted more critical attention and been responsible for so much diversity of opinion as the rapidly increasing Echium plantagineum, popularly described as the purple weed, and otherwise known as Paterson's curse, Salvation Jane, snake weed, and the blue devil. How the plant first was started upon its travels in the State nobody apparently has been able to definitely decide, but there is a belief in some quarters that it originally 'escaped' from a private garden, where, like the ubiquitous 'soursop,' it is said to have been regarded as a rather rare floricultural treasure.

Whether or not that idea is based upon a solid foundation, the fact remains that the weed has spread over the major portion of the older agricultural areas, and to-day is viewed with mixed feelings by many thousands of men on the land.

—Both Sides Right —

A few weeks ago representations were made to the Government with a view to have the plant included in the category of 'noxious weeds.' The immediate result was that while numerous correspondents in the lower north and to the east and south of Adelaide warmly endorsed the proposal and hoped that prompt measures would be taken to eradicate the 'pest,' dozens of others in the middle north and upward referred eulogistically to the plant as a most valuable fodder for stock, and trusted that the authorities would not be persuaded into pronouncing its doom; even allowing that a proclamation for its wholesale destruction could be carried into effect.

So far as the writer has been able to ascertain, both by personal observations and enquiries extending from Adelaide to Carrieton, the friends and the foes of Salvation Jane have good grounds for their respective attitudes. In those localities where there is almost invariably a plentiful supply of nutritious herbage, the stock will not, as a rule touch the weed, which consequently is or no value, but rather a menace to the natural grasses it undoubtedly smothers.

In regions, however, where the climatic and other conditions are not conducive to the abundant growth and continuance of native grasses, the stock not only eat the weed but seem to enjoy it immensely, and undoubtedly thrive on it.

— Solution of Problem. —

In the circumstances, the obvious solution of the difficulty is to declare the plant "noxious'' in the country south of (say) Saddleworth, and "useful" in the areas above that point. Of course, before that procedure can be adopted, as was indicated in The Register a couple of .weeks ago, it will be necessary to amend the laws on the subject — an innovation which would surely prove beneficial in more directions than one. In its present form and under prevailing administration, the statute is not nearly so effective as it should be, and early commonsense revision would be welcomed with hearty approval.

Although patches and isolated plants of the 'curse' may be seen in the fields and along the roads right from Adelaide to Terowie, it is not until after havuing left the junction town some miles behind that one enters "the real home" of the weed, in the neighbourhood of Lancelot the land is a moving mass of colour, which, in the bright sunlight, evokes the enthusiastic admiration of the artistic beholder. In the wheat crops, stimulated possibly by the artificial fertilizers, the plants often rise high above the heads of the grain, while along the roadway and on the lay lands they appear from a distance like a magnificent purple carpet. It is about here that the traveller is compelled to recognise the force of the arguments of those who strenuously contend that the plant should not be brought under the noxious ban. On all sides sheep and cattle may be seen eating it with avidity. Indeed, they will even pass over fairly green barley grass for the more succulent blossoms and stems of the 'curse.'

— Vigorously Championed. —

At Dawson, where the weed flourishes amazingly, the writer interviewed several persons regarding its utility or otherwise, and in each case heard it spoken of in the highest and most flattering terms. '"Even if such a course was at all feasible,'' remarked one prominent farmer, "I would not have it destroyed for anything. As a fodder it has excellent qualities, which guarantee for it the widespread appreciation of men in this district. You see that herd of cows over there — pointing to a purple paddock half a mile away— they are eating the weed for all they are worth, and sheep do splendidly on it. A characteristic which renders it the more valuable is that it is practically a drought resister. In other words, it remains green throughout nearly the whole of the summer, and is therefore a distinct boon long after the natural grasses have withered and died."

Mr. C. H. Meyers stated that ''the plant was first noticed in the district in 1888. In 1892, at a meeting of the local branch of the Agricultural Bureau, it was decided to forward a sample to the Central Bureau for identification. About a month later a reply was received from the General Secretary (the late Mr. A. Molineux) that it was a fodder plant known botanically as Echium plantagineum. It is this plant which at present keeps up the flow of milk, as the stock will not look at the native grass on account of the seeds. I have never seen horses eat it, but they are exceedingly partial to the clover which grows under the protective cover of the weed. In his report on the subject recently.

Mr. Summers said — 'Although stock eat it to a certain extent when young, and when there is little or nothing else green, it cannot. &c.' In this he is quite wrong, as he would soon discover if he turned sheep into a paddock at any period of the growth of the plant, and with plenty of other green grass and herbage about: I would sooner have it in my watercourses than barley grass, as it will not allow the water to wash out the soil, but causes the gutters to silt up. Indeed, if it had not been for the weed from 25 to 30 acres of my land would now be useless. The more thickly it grows the better stock like it, and if cut when at its height it makes excellent ensilage.''

— The Weed Wins.—

As an illustration of the attraction which the weed has for cattle, it is interesting to learn the experiment of a dairy farmer a few miles to the south of Dawson. So soon as the natural feed began to die off, he made it a practice to feed his cows on bran and chaff, which they seemed to find sufficiently palatable until one day, on their way to drink at the dam, they came across some heaps of the blue weed that had been mowed down in an adjacent paddock. To these they promptly gave their attention, and ate with a manifest relish, which utterly amazed the owner, and disclosed their undoubted preference.

All through the upper north the weed has obtained a firm footing, and it is rarely adversely criticised. It is particularly in evidence around Carrieton, and on some of the roads outside of Hammond has attained such a height that it looks like a miniature forest. Here, as in some other districts, the sheep are especially fond of it, and have eaten many of the plants down to within an inch or two of the ground.

Reference has been made on several occasions to the almost utter impossibility of eradicating the weed once it has established itself in a paddock. Judging by what the writer was told, the task should not be nearly so hard as is imagined. A farmer who desired to put under wheat a block of land whereon the plant was fairly thick, soon disposed of it by means of cultivation.

The links to Many Voices

 There are several ways to get there: here are two. The PDF is in my Dropbox public folder for now, and either of these will do:


Your mileage may vary: please drop me a line if you are having trouble. A comment on this blog is the best way, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

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