Mother-of-millions (Bryophyllum species)

Mother of millions is a drought hardy succulent garden plant. It rapidly produces tiny plant-lets that quickly form new colonies.

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Impact

As the name suggests, mother of millions reproduces rapidly, producing hundreds of tiny plantlets which quickly form new colonies. It is adapted to dry conditions and can survive long periods of drought. This increases the plant's potential to persist and spread. Mother of millions is toxic when ingested by livestock; it is also poisonous to humans and household pets.

Mother of millions, hybrid mother of millions and resurrection plant are all poisonous when ingested. The toxic effects of these plants are due mainly to bufadienolides which cause heart failure. The toxins are present in all parts of the plant however, flowers are five times more poisonous than the leaves and stems.

Mother of millions and hybrid mother of millions are the most toxic however, livestock access should be restricted to all three.

Ingestion of the toxins can be cumulative and livestock eating small amounts, several times within a few days may suffer poisoning. Eating about 5 kg of mother of millions would kill an adult cow. Where the plants are thick, this amount would grow in a square metre.

Poisoning generally occurs when the plants are flowering – between May and October. Livestock are at a greater risk of poisoning if they have been moved to a new paddock, there is a feed shortage or during droving because they are more likely to eat the plant.

If livestock have eaten a large amount of plant, they may die suddenly of heart failure.

If they have eaten smaller amounts over several days, they may develop diarrhoea (sometimes bloody), drool saliva, dribble urine and then die of heart failure. Some affected livestock will recover slowly if small amounts of plant material have been eaten and their hearts are not badly damaged.

Poisoned stock must be treated within 24 hours of consuming the plant. After this period heart function is severely disturbed and stock may be too badly affected to survive. If you suspect livestock could have mother of millions poisoning, consult a vet immediately.

Mother of millions is also toxic to humans and household pets with dogs being particularly susceptible. It is unlikely that humans or pets would eat enough plant material to become poisoned. However, because mother of millions can be found in many gardens, the likelihood of human or pet poisoning is increased.

Distribution

Mother of millions is a native of Africa and Madagascar and was introduced to Australia as a garden plant. It is a serious weed on the coast and the northwest slopes and plains of NSW. Consequently, it is a declared noxious weed in these areas.

Distribution map

Spread

The common name ‘mother of millions’ is based on the plant’s ability to reproduce vegetatively in large numbers. Each plant produces small plantlets along the edges of its leaves which detach and form new plants. This makes mother of millions hard to eradicate and follow up controls are necessary. Mother of millions also produces numerous seeds which can survive in the soil for a number of years before germinating.

Description

Mother of millions belongs to the genus Bryophyllum. Mother of millions is a succulent perennial plant growing 30 cm to 1 m in height. The stems are pinkish-brown or greyish in colour. The leaves are pencil-shaped, pale green to pale brown in colour with dark green patches and a shallow groove on the upper surface. There are up to seven projections at the tip of each leaf which when broken off can develop into new plants. The flowers are orange-red in colour and occur in a cluster at the top of a single stem. Flowering can occur from May to October.

Look-a-like species

In NSW, there are also two less common Bryophyllum species. These are hybrid mother of millions (Bryophyllum daigremontianum x Bryophyllum delagoense) and resurrection plant (Bryophyllum pinnatum). These plants also produce small plantlets along the edges of their leaves, are adapted to dry conditions, are poisonous and are declared noxious in various parts of the State. Hybrid mother of millions can be distinguished from mother of millions by the shape of its leaves. Resurrection plant is also a Bryophyllum species, growing sometimes up to 2 m. It can also be distinguished from mother of millions by its leaves and flowers.

Table 1: Summary of livestock toxicity symptoms
 Mother of millions
B. delagoense
Hybrid Mother of millions
B. daigremontianum x B. delagoense
Resurrection plant
B. pinnatum
Height (cm) 30-100 30-100 60-200
Leaves Pencil-shaped, pale green to pale brown with dark green patches, shallow groove on the upper surface. Boat-shaped, thick stalks, with notches along the edges of the leaves. Dull blue-green and up to five oval leaflets per leaf with wavy edges.
Flowers Orange-red in colour, occur in a cluster at the top of a single stem.
Flowering occurs from May to October.
Orange-red in colour, occur in a cluster at the top of a single stem.
Flowering occurs from May to October.
Reddish colour often tinged with pink, occur in loose clusters on stalks growing along the upper portion of the stem.
Flowering occurs from June to August.

Habitat

Mother of millions is commonly found growing on gravel and sandy soils. It is a weed of bushland and disturbed sites such as roadsides, along fence lines, around rubbish tips and abandoned rural dwellings. It also occurs frequently along creeks and rivers where it is spread by floodwaters.

References

Naughton M and Bourke C (2005). Mother of millions Primefact 45. NSW DPI, Orange. 

The authors would like to acknowledge the comments made by Steve Ottaway and Carol Rose regarding the technical content of this publication.

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Control

Preventing the spread of mother of millions is the best control measure. Learn to identify mother of millions and regularly check for it in winter when the plants are in flower and are easier to see. If found remove immediately using a combination of control methods including hand removal, fire, herbicide application and rehabilitation. Regularly check creek lines after floods for new infestations.

Hand removal

For small infestations, mother of millions can be removed by pulling up individual plants by hand. Once the plants have been removed they should be burnt; stored in black plastic bags until completely decayed or buried. All of these procedures will prevent regrowth from leaf fragments. Care needs to be taken when using this method of control as plantlets may detach from the leaves during removal and establish as new plants. Some regrowth will therefore occur and follow-up treatment will be required.

Fire

Permits may be required to light fires – check with your local NSW Rural Fire Service for permit details. For large infestations, fire is the most economical control option available and will kill the plants and much of the seed stored in the soil. Using fire first will reduce the cost of any spray applications. When using fire, fence off infested areas to limit stock access and build up a fuel load. Control burn the area using a hot fire. In following years any regrowth should be spot sprayed. Some groups have reported a 30% reduction in mother of millions each year by using control burning with follow-up spot spraying.

Rehabilitation

Once removal of the infestation is complete the infested area should be revegetated with more desirable plants to provide competition to future mother of millions seedlings and plantlets.

This can be achieved by soil preparation, replanting, fertilising, controlling pests and grazing appropriately.

Some herbicides have a residual effect and this should be checked before attempting to revegetate.

Biological control

Four insects have been imported into Australia for testing as biological control agents for mother of millions. Testing of the first and most promising insect, Osphilia tenuipes, a stem-boring weevil, has been completed. However, this agent appears to also attack closely related exotic ornamental plants. Therefore, approval for the field release of this agent has been delayed until issues surrounding the potential impact of this insect on the non-target ornamental plants have been addressed.

A South African citrus thrip (Scirtothrips aurantii) has occurred in Queensland from unknown sources and gives significant control. 

Herbicide application

Thorough spraying of mother of millions with herbicides is effective if sufficient wetting agent (non ionic surfactant) is used to penetrate the waxy outer covering of the plants – especially that of the plantlets. Mother of millions may be controlled with herbicides at any time of the year if the plants are not stressed, but infestations are easiest to see in winter when the plants are in flower. Spraying during flowering also prevents new seeds from developing. Late autumn or early spring may be a better option if the plants are lush and growing well, because they are more likely to readily absorb the chemical. In areas that regularly flood, avoid spraying when flooding is likely.

After spraying, plants may be more palatable to livestock so exclude them from the treated infestation by resting the paddock or erecting temporary fencing. Exclusion of livestock should continue until the plants are dead. It should be noted that dead plants are still toxic and still present a poisoning risk to livestock if eaten.

A number of herbicides are available for treating mother of millions. Spraying with herbicides may not be 100% successful therefore, the site should be monitored for regrowth and an appropriate follow up treatment carried out.

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 14877 Expires 30/06/2019
Glyphosate 360 g/L with Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
Rate: 10 g metsulfuron-methyl plus 200 mL glyphosate in 100 L of water
Comments: Apply just prior to flowering, add a surfactant.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


2,4-D 300 g/L (Affray 300®)
Rate: 70 mL in 10 L of water
Comments: Thorough even coverage of leaves
Withholding period: 7 days.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


2,4-D amine 625 g/L (Amicide® 625)
Rate: 400 mL per 100 L of water
Comments: Thorough, even coverage of leaves and plantlets is necessary. Add a wetting agent.
Withholding period: 7 days.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Fluroxypyr 200 g/L (Staraneā„¢)
Rate: 600 mL per 100 L of water
Comments: Actively growing seedlings and young plants before flowering.
Withholding period: 7 days.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Fluroxypyr 333 g/L (Staraneā„¢ Advanced)
Rate: 360 mL in 100 L of water
Comments: Apply to actively growing seedlings and young plants before flowering
Withholding period: 7 days.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Picloram 100 g/L + Triclopyr 300 g/L + Aminopyralid 8 g/L (Grazon Extra®)
Rate: 500 mL in 100 L of water
Comments: Apply at flowering, add a surfactant.
Withholding period: Where product is used to control woody weeds in pastures there is a restriction of 12 weeks for use of treated pastures for making hay and silage; using hay or other plant material for compost, mulch or mushroom substrate; or using animal waste from animals grazing on treated pastures for compost, mulching, or spreading on pasture/crops.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L (Grazon® DS)
Rate: 500 mL per 100 L of water
Comments: Apply at flowering, add a surfactant.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Central Tablelands Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment.
Protect conservation areas, natural environments and grazing land that is free of mother-of-millions
Central West Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment.
Hunter Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment.
North West Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment.
This Regional Recommended Measure applies to Bryophyllum delagoense
Riverina Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
Western
Exclusion zone: whole region except core infestation area of maintained gardens
Regional Recommended Measure*
Whole region: Plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment (except in maintained gardens). Exclusion Zone: The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Core infestation: Land managers should mitigate spread from their land.
This Regional Recommended Measure also applies to Bryophyllum hybrids
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfill the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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Reviewed 2017