Click on images to enlarge
dense infestation excluding all other species (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
creeping habit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
habit in fruit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
leaves, hairy stems and flower clusters (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
young flower clusters on the left, with progressively older clusters and mature fruit to the right (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
close-up of flowers and fruit (Photo: Forest and Kim Starr, USGS)
close-up of a single fruit with two spines, also note the difference in size of the paired leaves (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
seedling (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
comparison of small matweed (Guilleminea densa), left, and khaki weed (Alternanthera pungens), right (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
close-up of hairy stems and flower clusters (Photo: Chris Gardiner)
close-up of flowers showing their spine-tipped 'petals' (Photo: Forest and Kim Starr, USGS)
Alternanthera pungens Kunth
Achyranthes repens L.
Alternanthera achyrantha (L.) R.
Alternanthera achyrantha (L.) R. Br. ex Sweet var. echinata (Sm.) Maiden
Alternanthera achyrantha (L.) R. Br. ex Sweet var. leiantha Seub.
Alternanthera echinata Sm.
Alternanthera repens (L.) Link.
Illecebrum achyrantha L.
creeping chaffweed, khaki burr, khaki weed, khakiweed, spingflower alternanthera
Native to South America (i.e. Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru).
Widely distributed throughout all the mainland states and territories of Australia, where it grows in all but the driest environments, but is predominantly found in and around towns. Particularly common and widespread in New South Wales and Queensland, and relatively widespread in the Northern Territory and in the northern and western parts of Western Australia. Also naturalised in many parts of South Australia, in northern Victoria, in the ACT and on Christmas Island.
Widely naturalised in other parts of the world, including in northern Africa, Asia (i.e. China, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand and Papua New Guinea) and on some Pacific islands (i.e. Hawaii and New Caledonia).
This species grows in tropical, sub-tropical, semi-arid and warmer temperate environments. It is a weed of disturbed sites, bare areas, roadsides, parks, lawns, waste areas, watercourses, turfgrasses, orchards, and occasionally also native pastures and grasslands.
A small, long-lived (i.e. perennial), creeping (i.e. prostrate), herbaceous plant with stem up to 60 cm long. This species often forms a dense mat of prickly vegetation over the ground surface.
- a long-lived, low-growing plant that forms a dense mat over the ground surface.
- its creeping stems are somewhat hairy and produce roots at their joints.
- its paired leaves usually differ in size (i.e. one leaf of the pair is significantly larger than its partner).
- its greenish or greenish-yellow flowers are grouped together in small clusters (8-12 mm long) in the leaf forks.
- some of the flower parts become hardened and form sharp prickles as they mature.
The two seed-leaves (i.e. cotyledons) are elongated to spear-shaped (i.e. linear to lanceolate) with rounded tips (i.e. obtuse apices) and tapering bases. They are hairless (i.e. glabrous) and borne on short stalks (i.e. petioles). The first true leaves are also elongated or spear-shaped (i.e. linear to lanceolate) but do not have any obvious stalks (i.e. they are sub-sessile).
Stems and Leaves
The creeping (i.e. prostrate) stems are produced from a tough and thickened central crown. They often have a reddish appearance and produce roots (i.e. adventitious roots) at their joints (i.e. nodes). These stems are covered with short, soft, hairs (i.e. they are pubescent).
Similar hairs are sometimes also present on the leaf stalks (i.e. petioles) and leaf blades. The oppositely arranged leaves usually differ in size (i.e. one leaf of the pair is significantly larger than its partner). They are egg-shaped in outline (i.e. ovate) or oval (i.e. elliptic) in shape with margins that are entire or slightly wavy. These relatively small leaves (8-60 mm long and 6-30 mm wide) have rounded tips (i.e. obtuse apices) and are borne on very short stalks (i.e. they are sub-sessile).
Flowers and Fruit
The inconspicuous greenish-yellow or greenish-coloured flowers are grouped together in small globular clusters (8-12 mm long and 6-10 mm wide). These flower clusters are borne in the leaf forks (i.e. axils) and may become slightly elongated as they mature. Each flower has five 'petals' (i.e. perianth segments or tepals) that become whitish or straw-coloured as the fruit mature. Two of these 'petals' (i.e. perianth segments) are significantly longer than the others and develop a sharp point at the tip. Barbed hairs are also present at the base of the 'petals' and they become hardened and form prickles as the fruit reaches maturity. Flowers also have 4 or 5 stamens and an ovary topped with a tiny rounded (i.e. capitate) stigma. Flowering occurs from spring through to autumn.
The tiny fruit (i.e. utricle) is about 1 mm long and has a flattened top (i.e. truncate apex). It usually remains hidden inside the old, prickly, flower parts. Seeds are tiny, yellowish or orange in colour, and shiny in appearance.
Reproduction and Dispersal
This plant reproduces mainly by seed, though stem fragments may also take root after being dislodged from a plant.
The seeds are contained inside a 'burr' which readily becomes attached to animals, clothing and other objects (e.g. vehicle tyres). They may also be dispersed by water movement and in contaminated agricultural produce (e.g. fodder and pasture seed). Stem fragments can be spread by machinery, livestock or cultivation.
Khaki weed (Alternanthera pungens) is mainly regarded as a weed of lawns, pastures and disturbed sites near habitation. However, this species is also regarded as an environmental weed in large parts of northern Australia (i.e. in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. In fact, during a recent survey, it was listed as a priority environmental weed in five Natural Resource Management regions throughout Australia.
This species initially tends to be found along roadsides and in other highly disturbed sites. However, it can spread from these areas into disturbed natural environments and occasionally invades native pastures on sandy soils, where it out-competes most other species with its mat-forming habit.
In Queensland, where this species is very common, there are numerous references to it being somewhat of a problem in natural areas. For example, one Queensland Parks and Wildlife publication describes khaki weed (Altrnanthera pungens) as an "introduced environmental weed species" in the desert uplands region in Queensland. Thuringowa City Council includes it amongst other weeds species in its list of potential environmental pests and it is regarded as a medium priority weed species in the Mackay-Whitsunday Wet Tropics region. Nebo Shire places it amongst a list of species that cause damage to the environment if not managed accordingly, while it is regulated by local law in the Beaudesert Shire due to its adverse impact on the environment.
Khaki weed (Alternanthera pungens) is also spreading through the Northern Territory, having been recorded in the Darwin, Gulf, Katherine, Victoria River and Alice Springs districts. In Western Australia, khaki weed (Alternanthera pungens) is said to grow along creek banks, drainage channels and in grasslands and other disturbed natural vegetation.
It is also widespread in New South Wales, where it has been reported from disturbed sites in conservation areas, particularly in drier inland regions (e.g. in Willandra National Park, Cocoparra National Park, Warrumbungles National Park, Mount Kaputar National Park and Narran Lake Nature Reserve). Khaki weed (Alternanthera pungens ) has also been recorded in conservation areas in South Australia (i.e. Coorong National Park) and north-western Victoria (i.e. Barkindji Biosphere Reserve).
This species is also a nuisance because of the trouble that the prickly seed bracts cause to humans and animals. It is often very troublesome in mown sites in towns and and urban areas, such as lawns, parks and along footpaths. This is particularly the case during summer, when the prickly bracts dry out, rendering ovals and parklands useless for some sporting activities.
Khaki weed (Alternanthera pungens) is also suspected of poisoning sheep and pigs, and causing digestive disturbances and skin ailments in cattle. Horses that graze on areas containing large amounts of this species have developed a form of staggers, and its burrs can contaminate lucerne hay and other stock feeds. The burrs can also contribute to vegetable fault in wool.
This species is declared under legislation in the following states and territories:
- New South Wales: Class 4 - a locally controlled weed. The growth and spread of this species must be controlled according to the measures specified in a management plan published by the local control authority and the plant may not be sold, propagated or knowingly distributed (in the Balranald, Carrathool, Griffith, Hay, Jerilderie, Leeton, Murrumbidgee, Narrandera, Urana, Wakool and Wentworth local authority areas).
- Northern Territory: B - growth and spread of this species to be controlled (throughout all of the Territory), and C - not to be introduced into the Territory.
South Australia: 1@ - this species is declared a Class 1c and is regarded as a prohibited terrestrial plant. Its presence must be notified and the plant must be destroyed (throughout the entire state).
Victoria: P3 - a prohibited weed in the Wimmera, Goulburn and East Gippsland regions, where it must be eradicated or controlled, and C1 - a regionally controlled weed in the North Central region, where landholders must take all reasonable steps to control it and prevent its spread on their land and the roadsides which adjoin their land.
Western Australia: Prohibited - on the prohibited species list and not permitted entry into the state.
For information on the management of this species see the following resources:
- the Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment and The Arts Agnote on this species, which is available online at http://www.nt.gov.au/weeds.
Khaki weed (Alternanthera pungens) is similar to some of the native joyweeds (e.g. Alternanthera denticulata, Alternanthera nodiflora and Alternanthera nana) and may also be confused with low-growing species that produce burrs (e.g. Soliva spp. and Acanthospermum spp.). It is also similar to gomphrena weed (Gomphrena celosioides), which is also known as "soft khaki weed", and small matweed (Guilleminea densa).
Lesser joyweed (Alternanthera denticulata), common joyweed (Alternanthera nodiflora) and hairy joyweed (Alternanthera nana) may have a creeping (i.e. prostrate) habit and very similar flower clusters to khaki weed (Alternanthera pungens), but these species do not produce prickles.
Bindy eyes (Soliva spp.) do produces prickles from its flower parts, however these species have very different, highly divided, leaves. Paraguay burr (Acanthospermum australe) is also very similar, but its burrs have numerous small hooks instead of sharp spines. Gomphrena weed (Gomphrena celosioides) and small matweed (Guilleminea densa) may be distinguished by their lack of prickles, and gomphrena weed (Gomphrena celosioides) also by its larger whitish flower clusters that are borne at the tips of its branches.
Fact sheets are available from Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) service centres and our Customer Service Centre (telephone 13 25 23). Check our website at www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au to ensure you have the latest version of this fact sheet. The control methods referred to in this fact sheet should be used in accordance with the restrictions (federal and state legislation, and local government laws) directly or indirectly related to each control method. These restrictions may prevent the use of one or more of the methods referred to, depending on individual circumstances. While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of this information, DEEDI does not invite reliance upon it, nor accept responsibility for any loss or damage caused by actions based on it.
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