Nasty plant one to watch for

Photo of velvetleaf
Photographs by Trevor James

The highly invasive pest plant velvetleaf is spreading  – and Waikato landowners are urged to keep an eye out.

Waikato Regional Council has already been working to eradicate infestations on Matamata, Piopio, Atiamuri and Ngakuru farms, but is aware of an additional five outbreaks throughout the region, in particular in the North Waikato, Matamata-Piako and South Waikato districts.

A further 14 sites will be inspected, says council biosecurity spokesman Patrick Whaley.

“These latest developments mark a significant escalation in the scale of the velvetleaf problem in our region.”

Infestations have also occurred in Canterbury, Otago and Marlborough and the Ministry for Primary Industries believes it has come from imported fodder beet seed.

Velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti) is one of the world’s most invasive pest plants, damaging crops by competing with them for nutrients and water. In New Zealand, it is an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act.  It is also known as China jute, butter print and Indian mallow.

“We will be working hard to help landowners manage the situation, in co-operation with the Ministry for Primary Industries which is leading the national response to velvetleaf infestations linked to potentially contaminated fodder beet seed.”

An annual broad-leaved herb that grows between one and 2.5 metres tall, velvetleaf has buttery-yellow flowers about three centimetres across. It flowers from spring through autumn. Leaves are large, heart-shaped and are velvety to the touch.

Seedlings are vigorous and the plant grows rapidly in the first few months after germination. Seeds remain viable for up to 60 years. The seeds are spread by water, farm machinery when harvesting grain, through livestock and as a contaminant of grain.

The scale of some of the discoveries, plus the potential for more fresh sites to be uncovered in the Waikato, means the council has set up an incident management team. The team is developing a long term management plan to build on work already underway.

Mr Whaley said it was unclear at this stage how the new infestations occurred and the source of the outbreaks would form part of ongoing investigations.

“For now we strongly encourage landowners to keep an eye out for this pest and ensure they don’t do anything to help spread it.”

Farmers are also advised to photograph any plants and mark their location so they can be found again easily.

“Do not pull up plants or graze stock in infested crops. A ministry or regional council staff member will provide strict protocols to follow which includes carefully removing plants to make sure seed is not spread.”

Report any signs of velvetleaf by ringing 0800 80 99 66.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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