Bellyache bush is a shrub with lobed leaves and red or purple flowers. It forms dense thickets and is poisonous to people and animals.
Bellyache bush contains diterpenoid esters which are poisonous to people and animals. All parts of the plant are toxic but the seeds contain the highest amount of toxins. Symptoms of poisoning may take an hour or longer to appear. Symptoms include:
Touching the sap can cause irritation to the skin.
The fruit and seeds of bellyache bush can poison livestock causing gastroenteritis with diarrhea. Some animals eventually die and there have been cases of horse and cattle deaths in Australia. Livestock are more likely to eat bellyache bush when there is not enough other feed.
Bellyache bush is an upright woody shrub or small tree usually 2-3 m tall but occasionally 4 m tall. It is deciduous and loses its leaves during the dry season. Bellyache bush plants may survive for more than 20 years.
Both male and female flowers are present on each bush, they look very similar though the female flowers are slightly larger.
Bellyache bush looks like castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) which has larger, hairy-fruit, and its leaves have 7-9 lobes.
Bellyache bush is native from Mexico to Paraguay, and was probably introduced to Australia as an ornamental plant in the late 1800s. Bellyache bush is a tropical species that is frost sensitive, it is unlikely to survive in New South Wales.
Bellyache bush plants have been planted in gardens as an ornamental.
Most spread is via seeds. Bellyache bush can start flowering when plants are only 2 months old. Each plant can produce up to 12 000 seeds per year. Seed can lay dormant in the soil for up to 4 years in dry conditions only germinating after sufficient rainfall. Under normal rainfall conditions most seed is only viable for one year.
The seeds are released explosively from the pods up to 13 m away from the plant. Birds, larger ants and water, especially flood water, spread the seeds further. The seeds can also be spread in soil stuck to machinery.
In Northern Australia, the seeds germinate from October to December.
Bellyache bush plants can produce suckers from the crown and roots which increases the density of infestations. Plants can also grow from cut stems that come in contact with the soil. Plant parts can be spread by people dumping garden waste.
Bebawi, F. F., & Campbell, S. D. (2002). The response of bellyache bush (Jatropha gossypiifolia) plants cut off at different heights and seasonal times. Tropical Grasslands, 36(2), 65-68.
Bebawi, F. F., Vitelli, J. S., Campbell, S. D., Vogler, W. D., Lockett, C. J., Grace, B. S., Kukitsch, B.. & Heard, T. A. (2009). Jatropha gossypiifolia. In The biology of Australian weeds, F. D.Panetta, (Ed). Volume 3. RG and FJ Richardson.
Heard, T. A., Dhileepan, K., Bebawi, F., Bell, K. L., & Segura, R. (2012). Jatropha gossypiifolia L.–bellyache bush. In Biological control of weeds in Australia, 324-333.Julien, M. H., McFadyen, R. E., & Cullen, J. (Eds.). Csiro Publishing.
McKenzie, R. (2020). Australia's poisonous plants, fungi and cyanobacteria: A guide to species of medical and veterinary importance. CSIRO publishing.
Parsons, W.T., & Cuthbertson, E. G. (2001). Noxious weeds of Australia. CSIRO publishing.
Queensland Government.(2020). Restrictive invasive plant: Bellyache bush (Jatropha gossypiifolia). The State of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Queensland Government. (2021), Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service, Poisonous plants: Bellyache bush (Jatropha gossypiifolia). Retrieved 1 July 2022 from: https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/poisonous-plant-bellyache-bush-jatropha-gossypiifolia/
Successful weed control requires follow up after the initial efforts. This means looking for and killing regrowth or new seedlings. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful.
Wear personal protective clothing including long sleeves, long pants and gloves to prevent poisoning and skin irritation from the sap when controlling bellyache bush.
To manage bellyache bush:
Maintain dense groundcover to reduce seedling survival and limit the growth of bellyache bush.
Bellyache bush has shallow roots which make it easy to hand pull or dig out. Cutting plants off at ground level can kill them. Dispose all fruit to prevent seeds sprouting on the site. Do not leave stems or crowns in contact with the ground as they can reshoot.
Slashing infested areas can reduce the density and limit seed production. Slashing at ground level is most successful. Slashing above the ground during summer when the plants have leaves and flowers is more likely to kill plants than slashing during winter when the plants have lost their leaves. Slashing while plants are fruiting could spread the seeds. Ensure all machinery is thoroughly cleaned before moving to a site without bellyache bush.
Plants can be stacked and burnt or you can Contact your local council for information about how to dispose of this weed.
Fire can be an effective control method if there is enough fuel load to carry the fire
There are currently no effective biological control agents for bellyache bush. The jewel bug Agonosoma trilineatum was released as biological control but has not established.
Spray actively growing plants. Ensure that all parts of the plant are covered with herbicide.
See Using herbicides for more information.
Fluroxypyr 333 g/L
Rate: 300 mL in 100 L of water
Comments: Spot spray application
Withholding period: Do not graze failed crops and treated pastures or cut for stock food for 7 days after application. See label for more information.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate
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.
|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.
|All of NSW||
Prohibition on certain dealings
Must not be imported into the state, sold, bartered, exchanged or offered for sale.
Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Prevention)
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.
|*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfil the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here|