Weed is a common garden plant, but it's also deadly

THIS week I am going to discuss a very common hedging plant used by many home owners and landscapers as a screen plant, barrier, or as a hedge.

Duranta erecta or repens is a plant native to Mexico, South America and the Caribbean.

It is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in tropical and subtropical gardens throughout the world.

WEED: Duranta flowers and leaves. Photo Ian Read
WEED: Duranta flowers and leaves. Photo Ian Read Contributed

It was first recorded in Queensland in 1931 as a potential weed but has spread in coastal areas of Queensland.

Duranta is in the same plant family, Verbenaceae, as lantana.

While it is popular nursery plant, it has many common properties of an environmental weed, and is highly poisonous to pets and children.

There are a wide variety of cultivars available, including Alba, Aurea, Aussie Gold, Gold Mound, Geisha Girl, Sapphire Showers and Variegata.

Duranta erecta is a sprawling shrub or a small tree.

The plant will grow at a rate of up to half a metre per year.

It can grow to six metres tall and can spread to an equal width.

Mature specimens possess axillary thorns depending on the cultivar, but can be often absent on younger specimens.

The leaves are light green, elliptic to ovate, opposite, and grow up to 7.5cm long and 3.5cm broad, with a 1.5cm petiole.

The flowers are light blue or lavender, produced in tight clusters located on terminal and axillary stems, blooming almost all year round.

The fruit is a small sphere yellow or orange berry, up to 11mm diameter and containing several seeds.

The small orange berries are attractive to some species of birds, or bats, and the seeds can be spread by water. The seeds can germinate and can out-compete and shade out native plant species or poison domestic and native animals.

The leaves and berries of the plant are toxic, and are known to have killed children, dogs, cats and some birds.

Duranta erecta's toxicity has been known since the late nineteenth century when ingestion of its fruit killed a two-year-old boy in Queensland,

WEED: Duranta poisonous orange berries. Photo Ian Read
WEED: Duranta poisonous orange berries. Photo Ian Read Contributed

Birds may also be at risk, based on evidence of the plant being the likely cause of death of a number of captive parrots and finches.

Symptoms of Duranta poisoning include an upset stomach, drowsiness, nausea, fever, vomiting and convulsions.

No warning of its potentially lethal toxicity is included on its plant labels or publicised by plant nurseries.

Branches of Duranta have 2cm long spines all the way along them that can easily pierce or scratch skin and are tough enough to even puncture through gardening gloves. Duranta has also been reported to cause dermatitis just from being handled.

It is difficult to kill and often requires a tree herbicide to kill it by drill and injection method.

Spraying the leaves may kill small plants but for more mature plants the most successful method is to cut and paste, or drill and inject the trunk then waiting until the plant is dead before digging out.

Attempting to manually remove by digging out the live plant will result in any remaining roots in the ground re-shooting.

LANDCARE

Ian Read can be contacted on 4159 9365, or email ian.read7@bigpond.com.au for free weed presentations or workshops to landowners and community groups.

Phone president Michael Johnson on 0422 297 062 for weed project details and monthly meeting times, or email bundylandcare@gmail.com.



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