Miconia (Miconia species)

PROHIBITED MATTER: If you see this plant report it. Call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline 1800 680 244
Also known as: velvet tree

Miconia are small trees or sprawling shrubs with very large leaves. They form dense thickets, outcompeting other plants in both open areas and in rainforests.

Profile

How does this weed affect you?

Miconia are fast growing trees or sprawling shrubs that:

  • invade moist areas
  • form dense thickets and completely replace native understorey plants in rainforests
  • reduce food and habitat for native animals
  • reduce biodiversity
  • restrict movement of animals though forests
  • can increase the risk of erosion and landslides on steep slopes.

What does it look like?

Four species of Miconia have been found in Australia. Miconia calvescens is a small tree that can grow to 15 m tall. Most mature plants found in NSW have been 6-12 m tall.

M. racemosa, M. nervosa, and M. cionotricha are all sprawling shrubs that grow up to 3 metres tall.

For all four species:

Leaves:

  • are green on top
  • are often purply-blue underneath (especially M. calvescens)
  • are between 20 cm (M. nervosa) and 80 cm long (M. calvescens)
  • have three prominent veins running lengthways along the leaf
  • have velvety hairs when young. 

Flowers are:

  • white to pink
  • 4–5 mm long
  • in multiple clusters (panicles) often with 1000 or more flowers on each cluster 
  • sweet-scented 
  • very short-lived - dying 12–24 hours after opening.

Fruit are:

  • green, brown or orange when unripe
  • purple black when ripe
  • less than 1 cm in diameter containing 50–200 seeds
  • sweet tasting and attractive to birds.

Seeds

Seeds are about 0.5 mm in diameter.

Stems

  • Young stems are greenish, have a squarish cross-section and are covered in velvety hairs.
  • Older stems turn brown and become rounded.

Where is it found?

Only Miconia calvescens has been found in northern NSW. During the 1970s and 80s it was a popular ornamental plant and sold by nurseries in QLD and NSW. Since 2010 an eradication program has removed all known cultivated and wild Miconia calvescens plants in the Lismore and Byron Shire Council areas. Seedlings still continue to be found during regular extensive searches in the Tweed Shire Region. 

All four species of Miconia (M. calvescens, M. racemosa, M. nervosa, and M. cionotricha) have been detected in Queensland. 

Miconia species are native to Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. They are highly invasive weeds on Pacific Islands where they have displaced native plants and animals. 

What type of environment does it grow in?

Miconia plants thrive in tropical and subtropical areas where there is more than 1600 mm of rainfall each year. They prefer partial to full shade, closed canopy environments. Plants can tolerate full sunlight if the rainfall and soil moisture are high. 

On the North Coast of NSW plants have been most commonly found in rainforest gullies, riparian zones and steep embankments or road cuttings with exposed clay soils. Seedlings are often found growing under or within close proximity to tree ferns.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Miconia during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2023)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

  • Estimated distribution of Miconia in NSW (Map: NSW Noxious Weed Local Control Authorities, 2010)
    Map shows weed distribution and density estimated by local council weeds officers in 2010.

How does it spread?

Miconia has been occasionally grown as an ornamental plant. 

By seed

Mature trees (4–5 years old) can flower and fruit three times per year producing up to 5 million seeds. Miconia seeds can remain viable in the soil bank for up to 16 years. Most seeds stay dormant until stimulated by sunlight from an opening in the canopy.  However some seeds will germinate under heavy shade.

Most seeds are spread by birds that eat the fruit and spread the seeds. Other small animals also eat the fruit. Seeds stuck in mud can spread on muddy clothes, shoes, tyres and machinery.

By plant parts

Stems and branches of living trees that touch the soil can grow new roots and form daughter plants. Cut trunks can resprout and limbs that have been cut may regrow if touching the soil.

References

Csurhes SM (1997) ‘Miconia calvescens, a potentially invasive plant in Australia’s tropical and sub-tropical rainforests,’ Proceedings of the first regional conference on Miconia control, Tahiti, 72–77

Global Invasive Species Database (2021) Species profile: Miconia calvescens. Retrieved 23 July 2021  http://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/species.php?sc=2 .

Meyer, J-Y (1998). Epidemiology of the invasion by Miconia calvescens and reasons for a spectacular success. Proceedings of the First Regional Conference on M. calvescens control, eds J.Y. Meyer and C.W. Smith, pp. 72-7. (Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia).

Meyer, J. Y. (1998). Observations on the reproductive biology of Miconia calvescens DC (Melastomataceae), an alien invasive tree on the Island of Tahiti (South Pacific Ocean) 1. Biotropica, 30(4), 609-624.

Murphy, H.T., Brooks, S.J., Bradford, M.G., Metcalfe, D.J. and Westcott, D.A. (2008). Recruitment and growth dynamics of Miconia calvescens (Melastomataceae) in tropical forest impacted by Cyclone Larry. Proceedings of the 16th Australian Weeds Conference, eds R.D. van Klinken, V.A. Osten, F.D. Panetta and J.C. Scanlan (Queensland Weeds Society, Cairns). 

Murphy, H.T., Metcalfe, D.J., Bradford, M.G., Ford, A.F., Galway, K.E., Sydes, T.A. and Westcott, D.J. (2008). Recruitment dynamics of invasive species in rainforest habitats following Cyclone Larry. Austral Ecology 33, 495-502. 

NSW Agriculture. State Weed Management Plan for Miconia

More information

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Control

Please do not attempt to treat or dispose of this weed yourself. Report this plant if you see it anywhere in NSW by calling the helpline listed at the top of this page immediately.

NSW DPI will lead an initial response for the treatment and disposal of the plant to stop it from spreading.

Control needs to be carried out carefully to prevent the re-establishment of massive numbers of seedlings from the soil seedbank.

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 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Various products)
Rate: 1 part glyphosate per 1.5 parts water
Comments: Cut stump or stem-scraping application.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


Picloram 44.7 g/L + Aminopyralid 4.47 g/L (Vigilant II ®)
Rate: Undiluted
Comments: Cut stump/stem injection application. Apply a 3–5 mm layer of gel for stems less than 20 mm. Apply 5 mm layer on stems above 20 mm .
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.
All of NSW Prohibited Matter
A person who deals with prohibited matter or a carrier of prohibited matter is guilty of an offence. A person who becomes aware of or suspects the presence of prohibited matter must immediately notify the Department of Primary Industries
All species of Miconia are Prohibited Matter in NSW

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.
For further information call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline on 1800 680 244 or send an email to weeds@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Reviewed 2022