Bellyache bush

Native to tropical America, bellyache bush is a squat, invasive shrub that can out-compete native vegetation and reduce pasture growth. Its fruit is poisonous to animals, and bellyache bush has caused many stock deaths. All parts of the bush are poisonous to humans.

Bellyache bush is easily confused with castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, which is often found growing close by. Bellyache bush is widespread across northern Australia.

Bellyache bush is a restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

Scientific name

Jatropha gossypiifolia

Other names

Cotton-leaf physic nut

Similar species

  • Castor oil plant

Description

  • Squat, thick-stemmed shrub 2.5-4m tall.
  • Develops from short, single-stemmed plant with 3 or 4 young leaves sprouting from top.
  • Young leaves are purple, sticky, deeply divided into 3 rounded lobes.
  • Older leaves are bright green, about 10cm in diameter, with up to 5 lobes and edges covered in coarse, dark-brown hairs.
  • Flowers are small, red with yellow centres, in small clusters throughout plant's upper part.
  • Seed pods are smooth, oval, 12mm across (about the size of a cherry), containing 3 to 4 seeds about 8mm long.
  • Bellyache bush looks similar to castor oil plant, Ricinus communis. However, castor oil plant is taller, has larger fruit, and has larger leaves with pointier tips and 7-9 lobes.

Habitat

  • Sometimes grown as garden plant.
  • Common along riverbanks and roadways, and in grasslands and open woodland.

Distribution in Queensland

  • Naturalised in various areas of north Queensland.
  • Smaller infestations throughout Queensland.

Life cycle

  • Seeds germinate October-December.
  • Flowers throughout year where moisture is adequate.

Affected animals

Livestock; Humans

Impacts

Environmental

  • Out-competes native vegetation.
  • Takes over extensive sections of river frontage, reducing biodiversity.
  • Poisonous to native animals.

Economic

  • Increases mustering costs.
  • Reduces pasture growth.
  • Poisonous to stock.

Social

  • All parts are poisonous to humans.

How it is spread

  • Spread by fruit-eating birds, water, livestock and machinery.

Control

Physical control

  • Hand-pull entire plant, including roots.
  • Dispose of plants and other reproductive materials and wash hands thoroughly to reduce the risk of re-infestation.
  • Fire can be an effective control if the fuel load is sufficient to carry fire through a bellyache bush infestation.

Mechanical control

  • Repeatedly slash infested areas to help reduce density.

Herbicide control

  • Herbicides are effective.

See the Bellyache bush fact sheet (PDF, 1.7MB) for herbicide control and application rates.

Biological control

  • Jewel bug Agonosoma trilineatum was released as biological control but seems not to have established.

Legal requirements

  • Bellyache bush is a restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014.
  • It must not be given away, sold, or released into the environment without a permit.
  • The Act requires everyone to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risks associated with invasive plants and animals under their control. This is called a general biosecurity obligation (GBO).
  • At a local level, each local government must have a biosecurity plan that covers invasive plants and animals in its area. This plan may include actions to be taken on certain species. Some of these actions may be required under local laws. Contact your local government for more information.

More information