Patterson’s Curse

Until recently I knew 2 things about Patterson’s Curse (Echium plantagineum):

1) It is a noxious, introduced weed that is overrunning the grazing lands of Australia and is poisonous to some livestock.

2) It produces beautiful, small, purple flowers in spring. These flowers create a picturesque blanket of vibrant colour across the landscape that would adorn many a travel brochure if it weren’t for point 1) above (oops). And I’m not just parroting what I’ve been told, I’ve seen fields clothed in violet and stood in awe – they are spectacular. But poisonous (bummer).

When wandering the Richmond farm recently, I stumbled upon a mass of broad-leafed plants. I had no idea if they were weeds, treasured rarities or perhaps promising herbal remedies. I wasn’t even sure if they were planted or invasive. They were tucked nicely in a cluster in one corner of an overgrown bed, but so were roses and tomatoes and any number of unidentified plants around the property, so that didn’t tell me much.

IMG_3185

Patterson’s Curse

Then I spotted a rather telling purple bloom.

Patterson's Curse

Patterson’s Curse flower

What did I say about it being beautiful? Am I right? Imagine a field of these things! It’s winter now so the flowers shouldn’t even be out. Think what they’d be like in spring.

Being the conscientious citizen, wizened farmer and good neighbour that I am, I resolved to discover if this was in fact Patterson’s Curse and, if so, to eradicate it from my lands by any means at my disposal before it spread to some of the horse pastures nearby.

Quick smart I made my way to my computer and searched for Patterson’s Curse. The images and descriptions confirmed my suspicions, the Richmond farm has a PC infestation. But, before I could break out the napalm, I spotted the tagline on the CSIRO page about Patterson’s Curse: “Paterson’s curse is considered a great resource for apiarists“.

There are about 50 beehives on the 18 acres I’m now caretaker of – that’s a lot of hungry mouths to feed. So, rather than ripping and burning, I’m going to nurture and love my little patch of Patterson’s Curse. One mans weed is another colony’s feast. Bees win, horses lose – at least in my corner of the world.

Patterson's Curse

Patterson’s Curse flower – food for my bees

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About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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10 Responses to Patterson’s Curse

  1. gosh I am glad you did your research! that is a pretty flower, and if you don’t have grazing animals I don’t see that it will do any harm.

    • I agree – not sure the surrounding farms do though as apparently PC has a wicked number of seeds. But, such is life. They use chemicals that my bees hate, I have plants their horses don’t like. Harmony is tough to achieve!

      I wonder if I’ll change my mind if we get a few sheep (yes, we’ve considered them as friendly little lawn mowers).

  2. karen says:

    a curse by any other name….

    Lovely.

  3. We prefer to think of it as ‘Salvation Jane’ and are planting the related Echium Vulgare for our girls. The plant has some way to prevent its nectar from evaporating on hot days.

    • I’ve heard that name as well and I have heard that some animals eat it (and survive) when there’s nothing else good to eat. I wonder if it deserves the bad reputation it’s been given.

  4. I’ve read that the toxins can build up in the honey of bees foraging on this plant so it may be something to consider depending depending on how much your bees use the flowers. I would certainly not plant it for bees.

  5. David Purdon says:

    My neighbour just found a lovely specimen of patterson’s curse in her garden. I thought it was PC but I wasn’t sure, so checked up. It was. It is beautiful; bees like it (as they also like capeweed). I think you should eradicate patterson’s curse, because it chokes out native grasses and more productive pasture grasses. It is toxic to pigs, horses and cattle (not just horses) it is also toxic to a lesser degree to goats and sheep. If you have bees, plant something else for them eg tea trees (maybe manuka, which is a type of tea tree). Bees also like many other plants, so please don’t keep or encourage PC just for your bees. If you are a vegetarian, just think, this declared noxious weed (which it is strictly speaking illegal to keep, let alone encourage) outcompetes crops of many types which provide human food..

    • I totally get your point. I know PC is a noxious weed. We just have a small patch, control it, it’s in the middle of the property so doesn’t go elsewhere and so I’m comfortable with keeping it. We have plenty of plants for bees to eat, it’s just one in the mix that blooms in very early spring. As for this weed in fields or spreading on crop land – that’s a definite no no!

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