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Scientific Name
Synonyms
Common Names
Family
Origin
Naturalised Distribution
Cultivation
Habitat
Distinguishing Features
Habit
Stems and Leaves
Flowers and Fruit
Reproduction and Dispersal
Impacts
Other Impacts
Similar Species
Legislation
Management
Sources
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Click on images to enlarge


few-branched habit (Photo: Mellisa Offord)


habit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


close-up of finely hairy stems and s-shaped fruit stalk (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


elongated leaves (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


flower clusters (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


close-up of flowers (Photo: Greg Jordan)


immature fruit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


mature fruit beginning to release its seeds (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


seeds (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


mature fruit having released most of its seeds (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) is the preferred food plant of the caterpillar of the wanderer butterfly, Danaus plexippus (Photo: Sheldon Navie)


comparison of the fruit of balloon cotton bush (Gomphocarpus physocarpus), on the left, and narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus), on the right (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

Narrow-leaved cotton bush
Gomphocarpus fruticosus

Scientific Name

Gomphocarpus fruticosus (L.) W.T. Aiton

Synonyms

Asclepias fruticosa L.
Gomphocarpus fruticosus (L.) R. Br.
Gomphocarpus fruticosus (L.) W.T. Aiton subsp. fruticosus

Common Names

arghel, arghel of Syria, balloon cotton, balloon cotton bush, Cape cotton, narrow leaf cotton bush, duck bush, duckbush, milk weed, milkweed, narrow-leaf cotton bush, narrowleaf cotton bush, narrow-leaf cottonbush, narrowleaf cottonbush, narrow-leaved cotton bush, narrowleaved cotton-bush, swan bush, swan plant, swanplant, wild cotton

Family

Asclepiadaceae (Victoria, the ACT, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory)
Apocynaceae (Queensland and New South Wales)

Origin

Native to southern and eastern Africa (i.e. South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, southern Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea) and the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula (i.e. Oman, Yemen and the southern parts of Saudi Arabia).

There are several subspecies, and the one that is thought to be widely naturalised in Australia and in other parts of the world has a more limited distribution in southern Africa (i.e. in southern Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana).

Naturalised Distribution

Widely naturalised in Australia with a scattered distribution throughout the southern and eastern parts of the country. It is most common in south-western Western Australia and the coastal and sub-coastal regions of eastern New South Wales. Also present in many parts of South Australia, in western and central Victoria, in Tasmania, in the inland parts of southern New South Wales and in south-eastern Queensland.

Also naturalised overseas in many other parts of the world (e.g. New Zealand, the Azores, India and Mauritius).

Cultivation

Narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) may have occasionally been grown in gardens in the past, but it is seldom deliberately cultivated these days. However, its unusual fruit are sometimes still used in flower arrangements.

Habitat

This species grows in a wide range of environments including warm temperate, sub-tropical, tropical and occasionally even semi-arid regions. It is a weed of roadsides, disturbed sites, waste areas, waterways, pastures, open woodlands and fallows.

Distinguishing Features

Habit

An upright (i.e. erect) shrubby plant usually growing 0.5-2 m tall. It is a relatively long-lived (i.e. perennial) species and normally has a rather slender few-branched habit.

Stems and Leaves

The upright (i.e. erect) stems are pale green in colour and covered in small whitish hairs (i.e. hoary) when young. These stems turn brown in colour and become somewhat woody with age. All parts of the plant, and particularly the stems, exude a white milky sap (i.e. latex) when broken or damaged.

The leaves are rather narrow or elongated (i.e. linear-lanceolate) in shape and taper to a point at both ends (i.e. with attenuate bases and acute apices). These leaves (4-12.5 cm long and 5-15 mm wide) are oppositely arranged along the stems and borne on short stalks (i.e. petioles) 3-10 mm long. Their upper surfaces are usually shiny and pale green in colour while their lower surfaces are paler and duller in appearance.

Flowers and Fruit

The flowers are borne in loose, drooping (i.e. pendulous) clusters (i.e. umbels) in the forks (i.e. axils) of the leaves. These clusters consist of 3-10 flowers, each flower being borne on a slender stalk (i.e. pedicel) 10-20 mm long, and the flower stalks (i.e. pedicels) all radiate from the same point. The flowers (about 2 cm long and 12-13 mm across) are white or cream coloured (sometimes with slightly pinkish centres) and are slightly tubular in appearance. They have five waxy petals that are used together at the base with lobes (i.e. corolla lobes) 6-7 mm long. In the centre of these flowers are five pouch-like projections that form a distinctive crown-like structure (i.e. corona). The flowers also have five small and narrow sepals and five stamens. Flowering occurs from spring through until early autumn (i.e. from August to April), but is most abundant during summer.

The distinctive thin-walled fruit are balloon-like or bladdery in appearance (4-7 cm long and 1.5-3.5 cm wide) and light green in colour. Often referred to as 'pods', they are actually follicles, and are borne on an S-shaped stalk (i.e. pedicel). These fruit are narrowly egg-shaped (i.e. narrowly ovoid), slightly curved (i.e. falcate), and covered in soft spines or bristles up to 10 mm long. They gradually taper to a short pointed projection (i.e. beak) at one end, turn brown in colour with age, and split open at maturity to release their numerous seeds. These seeds (about 6 mm long and 3 mm wide) are brown or black in colour, flattened, and topped with a tuft (i.e. coma) of numerous white silky hairs (about 30 mm long). The fruit are present from late summer through to late spring (i.e. from February to December).

Reproduction and Dispersal

This species reproduces by seed and suckers may also be produced off lateral roots that are closest to the soil surface.

The seeds are most commonly spread by wind and water. They may also be dispersed as a contaminant of agricultural produce (e.g. fodder) or in mud attached to animals, machinery and other vehicles.

Impacts

Narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) is regarded as an environmental weed in Western Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. It was recently listed as a priority environmental weed in two Natural Resource Management regions. This species is currently of most concern in New South Wales and Western Australia. It is a common weed of grasslands, open woodlands and disturbed sites in these states and also invades vegetation near waterways and around other waterbodies (i.e. riparian areas). It competes with native plants in these habitats and is capable of forming dense thickets.

In Western Australia narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) is most prevalent on the Darling Scarp and the Swan Coastal Plain between Perth and Bunbury, though it may also be found as far south as Albany and as far east as Esperance. It is also found occasionally inland in the wheatbelt region. This species was listed as a moderately important species in the Environmental Weed Strategy of Western Australia and has also been recorded in several conservation areas in this state (e.g. Lake McLarty Nature Reserve and Beeliar Regional Park).

Narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) is also present in conservation areas in New South Wales (e.g. Hortons Creek Nature Reserve, Theo Tulk Reserve and Byrnes Scrub Nature Reserve) and appears on several regional environmental weed lists (e.g. for the wider Sydney and Blue Mountains and South Coast regions). It usually grows along forest margins or grassy remnant native vegetation in New South Wales, but has also been reported from coastal environs. In the Namoi catchment, in the inland parts of northern New South Wales, it is also listed among the top 20 priority environmental weed species. It is also a common weeds of endangered brogo wet vine forest and dry rainforest ecological communities in the south-eastern corner of New South Wales. Narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) is also listed as a common environmental weed of the Adelaide region in South Australia.

Other Impacts

Narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) is poisonous to livestock and humans, and has caused deaths in cattle, sheep and poultry. It is seldom consumed fresh by livestock, but may be dangerous if it contaminates fodder or chaff. Severe gastroenteritis is the main symptom of poisoning by this species. Dense infestations may also reduce the productivity of pastures.

Similar Species

Narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) is very similar to balloon cotton bush (Gomphocarpus physocarpus ). These two species can be distinguished by the following differences:

These two species often grow together and readily hybridise, eventually producing hybrid swarms. These hybrid swarms consist of plants that gradually intergrade between to two species, sometimes making it impossible to assign individual plants to a particular species.

Legislation

This species is declared under legislation in the following states and territories:

Management

For information on the management of this species see the following resources:

Sources

Anonymous (2002). A Global Compendium of Weeds. http://www.hear.org/gcw. Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk Project and Department of Agriculture - Western Australia.

Anonymous (2002). Australia's Virtual Herbarium. http://www.anbg.gov.au/avh. Australian National Botanic Gardens, Environment Australia, Canberra.

Anonymous (2003). Department of Agriculture, Western Australia. http://www.agric.wa.gov.au. The State of Western Australia, Perth.

Anonymous (2006). Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/index.pl. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, National Genetic Resources Program, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Beltsville, Maryland, USA.

Anonymous (2006). National List of Naturalised Invasive and Potentially Invasive Garden Plants. Version 1.2. World Wildlife Fund - Australia (WWF Australia).

Anonymous (2007). Brogo Wet Vine Forest and Dry Rainforest Management Issues. Endangered Ecological Communities of the South East Corner. Fact Sheet 4. Eurobodalla Shire Council, New South Wales.

Anonymous (2007). Weeds Australia. http://www.weeds.org.au. National Weeds Strategy Executive Committee, Launceston.

Barker, B., Barker, R., Jessop, J. and Vonow, H. (2005). Census of South Australian Vascular Plants. Fifth Edition. The Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and State Herbarium, Government of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia.

Bostock, P.D. and Holland, A.E. (2007). Census of the Queensland Flora 2007. Queensland Herbarium, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Brisbane, Queensland.

Buchanan, A.M. (2007). A Census of the Vascular Plants of Tasmania and Index to The Student s Flora of Tasmania. Web Edition for 2007. http://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/Herbarium/TasVascPlants.pdf. Tasmanian Herbarium, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), Hobart, Tasmania.

Ermert, S. (2001). Gardener's Companion to Weeds. Second Edition. Reed New Holland, Sydney.

Goyder, D.J. and Nicholas, A. (2001). A revision of Gomphocarpus R.Br. (Apocynaceae: Asclepiadeae). Kew Bulletin 56: 769-836.

Harden, G.J. and Williams, J.B. (2007). Gomphocarpus fruticosus (L.) W.T.Aiton. New South Wales Flora Online. PlantNET - The Plant Information Network System of Botanic Gardens Trust. http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au. Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney, New South Wales.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds: a guide to the weeds of Western Australia. The Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Victoria Park.

Keighery, G. and Longman, V. (2004). The naturalized vascular plants of Western Australia. 1: checklist, environmental weeds and distribution in IBRA regions. Plant Protection Quarterly 19: 12-32.

Lazarides, M., Cowley, K. and Hohnen, P. (1997). CSIRO Handbook of Australian Weeds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

Lloyd, S. and Peirce, J. (2003). Narrow-leaf cotton bush. Farmnote, No. 43/2003. Department of Agriculture, The State of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia.

Mawhinney, M. (2004). Priority Environmental Weeds in the Namoi Catchment: outcomes of the process used to identify and rank
environmental weeds in the Namoi Catchment. Northern Inland Weeds Advisory Committee.

Miles, J. (2007). Narrow-leaf cotton bush, swan plant or milkweed (Gomphocarpus fruticosus). South Coast Weeds. http://www.esc.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/index.asp.

Paczkowska, G. (1996). *Gomphocarpus fruticosus (L.) W.T.Aiton. Narrowleaf cottonbush. FloraBase: The Western Australian Flora. http://florabase.calm.wa.gov.au. Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), Perth, Western Australia.

Parsons, W.T. and Cuthbertson, E.G. (1992). Noxious Weeds of Australia. Inkata Press, Melbourne.

Stanley, T.E. and Ross, E.M. (1986). Flora of South-eastern Queensland. Volume 2. Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.

Walsh, N.G. and Stajsic, V. (2007). A Census of the Vascular Plants of Victoria. Eighth Edition. National Herbarium of Victoria, South Yarra, Victoria.