Galvanised burr (Sclerolaena birchii)

Galvanised burr is a native plant of the saltbush family, regarded as a weed because it contaminates wool, is not eaten by livestock, and it competes with plants that do provide feed.


How does this weed affect you?

Galvanised burr is a native plant of the Chenopodiaceae family, which includes other roly-poly plants, saltbushes and crumbweeds. It is regarded as a weed because it is generally not eaten by livestock, it contaminates wool, and it competes with plants that do provide feed. 

Galvanised burr is not usually eaten by stock because of its spiny burrs. Dense infestations occur periodically, causing concern to graziers. The most serious impact caused by galvanised burr is that it reduces wool values by causing vegetable fault.

Spines that become detached from the burrs are problematic for wool-processing as they can become aligned with the wool fibres in spun yarn. Galvanised burr is only one of many species that can cause this type of fault in wool.

The spines and burrs are a considerable nuisance to shearers, stock and working dogs. At times when shearers are in high demand, they may choose to avoid shearing where sheep are carrying large numbers of burrs. Dense infestations also impede stock movement and block cultivation machinery.

Galvanised burr can provide some benefits. Shoot tips and seedlings are a food source in drought, containing 12–18% protein with digestibility of 46%. In western NSW galvanised burr is known colloquially as Hermidale or Girilambone lucerne. It can also be useful as a pioneer plant on bare areas, collecting windblown grass seed, protecting young seedlings from grazing and reducing erosion.

Where is it found?

Galvanised burr is native to the temperate and semi-arid regions of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland. Extensive populations of galvanised burr are generally restricted to central and western areas of NSW and Queensland between latitudes 21° S and 36° S across areas receiving between 350 and 650 mm of annual rainfall, although plants have been recorded from as far east as Wingen in the Hunter Valley and Killarney in Queensland.

Small populations of galvanised burr have been recorded in South Australia from areas east and south of Port Pirie, but extensive populations have never developed. Similar populations have been recorded in areas of the Northern Territory around Alice Springs.

The Great Dividing Range forms a barrier to eastern spread as galvanised burr requires mild winter temperatures. Its need for a fairly even seasonal spread of rainfall reduces its southerly spread into dry temperate areas and its northerly movement into the tropics. Slow initial growth rates of seedlings and slow root growth prevent permanent establishment of galvanised burr in arid areas where rainfall events are irregular and unreliable.

Distribution of galvanised burr in NSW
Distribution of galvanised burr in NSW (Auld & Martin 1975).

How does it spread?

Galvanised burr seeds germinate throughout the year but most germination occurs in autumn and spring. Seedlings cannot tolerate moisture stress and establishment depends on rain occurring shortly after germination, and lack of competition from other species. Seedlings flower 8 weeks after germination and produce viable seed by 12 weeks.

Mature galvanised burr plants flower throughout the year. Seed develops within the spined woody burr that is firmly attached to the stem. Each burr contains only one seed but large bushes produce many burrs. Mature seed is sealed within the burrs and receives no sap flow from the mother plant allowing seeds to remain viable after the plant itself dies.

Mature plants are usually short lived. Many plants die within two years and few plants survive for more than four years. When a plant dies its tap root breaks allowing the dead bush to roll in the wind. Seeds are distributed as stem segments and burrs break off. Dead bushes commonly accumulate along fencelines. Stem pieces and burrs can also be spread by animals.

The woody burrs must breakdown enough to allow water to enter so that the seed can germinate. This process takes between 1 and 4 years depending on whether the burrs remain on the surface or are buried.

Over a period of years the density of galvanised burr populations will wax and wane. Numbers of plants fall close to zero during long droughts and rise sharply when seasonal conditions are more favourable to germination and growth. The slow breakdown of the woody burrs during long droughts can create large numbers of viable seeds in the soil (the seedbank).

Adequate rainfall in winter will result in high germination rates of galvanised burr. When this is followed by rainfall in spring or early summer, a dense stand of galvanised burr will result, creating what is known as a “burr year”.

What does it look like?

Galvanised burr is a densely branched, hemispherical, short-lived, perennial shrub about 1 m in height and diameter, with stout woolly branches. The common name relates to the dense covering of fine white hairs that gives the plant a blue-green “galvanised” appearance. 

Leaves are flat with a broadly egg-shaped outline, 4-7 mm wide and 12-15 mm long, shortly stalked, and covered with short white hairs.

Flowers are solitary in the leaf axils (where the leaf stalk joins the stem). Flowering occurs most of the year.

Fruiting bodies (burrs) are woolly, 2-3 mm in diameter with 4-5 spines. The spines are almost horizontal, with two shorter spines occurring closer together, and 2-3 longer spines spreading and about 5-15 mm long.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Galvanised burr is largely restricted to soils of light surface texture. 


Author: Phillip Blackmore

Technical reviewers: Stephen Johnson, Bob McGufficke, Birgitte Verbeek


Auld, B.A. and Johnson, S.B. (2011) The biology of Australian Weeds 57. Sclerolaena birchii (F.Muell.) Domin. Plant Protection Quarterly 26 : 1, 2-7.

Auld, B.A., (1973). The effect of herbicides on the germination of galvanised burr (Bassia birchii). Australian Weeds Research Newsletter 18 : 22-3.

Auld, B.A., (1976). The biology of Bassia birchii (F.muell.). Weed Research 16 : 323-30.

Auld, B.A. And Martin, P.M., (1975). Morphology and distribution of Bassia birchii (F.Muell.). Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 100 : 167-78.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. And Leigh, J.H., (1981). Galvanised burr and Black roly-poly. Plants of Western New South Wales. P. 249. Soil Conservation Service of NSW and NSW Government Printing Office, Sydney.

Parsons, W. T. And Cuthbertson, E. G., (2001) Galvanised Burr and Five Spined Saltbush Noxious Weeds Of Australia Pp 379-83 CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Vic 3066, Australia.

More information

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Clearing of native vegetation on rural land is legislated by the Local Land Services Act 2013 and the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016Seek advice from Local Land Services regarding the restrictions and requirements associated with clearing galvanised burr.

Galvanised burr can be suppressed by a range of techniques, however a high level of control on grazing land is generally not economically justifiable. The aim of a control program on grazing land should be to minimise the amount of seed entering the seed bank by reducing the numbers of large plants. This approach will reduce the occurrence and severity of future infestations.


Controlling galvanised burr with herbicide is a two-part process due to there being no sap flow between the plant and its mature seeds. The plants are sprayed and the dead bushes should then be heaped and burnt in order to kill the viable seeds that remain within the dead burrs.

Spraying alone, without burning the dead bushes, only hastens the natural process of seed release and causes significant additions to the seedbank.

Control work using the “herbicide and heaping” technique is uneconomical and impractical for very large infestations such as those that occur in the parts of the state where galvanised burr is most problematic.

Physical control

Plants can be grubbed from the ground and heaped for burning using a tractor-mounted blade. Seedlings will establish after the parent plants are removed and cultivation can then be used to control the populations of seedlings.

Grazing management

Young galvanised burr plants will die when the basal buds are removed. The basal buds are the growth points from where the branches emerge. The basal buds appear at about six weeks after germination. Although the spines appear at the same time they are quite soft, and sheep are able to graze the young plants. Correctly timed heavy grazing of seedlings (down to 3 mm in height) removes the basal buds from the majority of seedlings and kills them.

In semi-arid areas, galvanised burr populations may be managed through a combination of strategic grazing of seedlings with sheep, establishment of competitive pastures including an annual legume and existing native grasses, and removal of mature plants below the crown (stacking and burning the dead bushes).


Seedlings are unlikely to establish from seed buried to a depth of 40 mm or more. Ploughing arable areas with an implement that inverts the soil will reduce the size of the viable seed bank in heavily infested areas.

Galvanised burr growing on arable country can be managed by a program of appropriate herbicide application, cultivation and cropping.


As part of a complex native ecosystem galvanised burr is attacked by several insects and diseases, however these organisms cannot suppress large numbers of plants.

Herbicide options

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

See Using herbicides for more information.

2,4-D amine 625 g/L (Various products)
Rate: 320 mL per 100 L of water
Comments: Spray young, actively growing plants. Thoroughly cover all of the foliage.
Withholding period: 7 days withholding for grazing
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate

Dicamba 750 g/L (Kamba® 750)
Rate: 400 mL per 100 L of water. Add a surfactant.
Comments: Spray prior to flowering. For non crop situations.
Withholding period: Do not harvest, graze or cut for stock food for 7 days after application.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate

Dicamba 750 g/L (Kamba® 750)
Rate: 5.9 L/ha Use a minimum of 1500 L water /ha. Add a surfactant.
Comments: Boom spray for non-crop situations. Spray prior to flowering.
Withholding period: Do not harvest, graze or cut for stock food for 7 days after application.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate

Dichlorprop 600 g/L (Lantana 600®)
Rate: 1.0 L per 100 L of water with Spraymate activator
Comments: Spray young, actively growing plants.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
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 pest 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.

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.


Pasture improvement may be associated with an increase in the incidence of certain livestock health disorders. Livestock and production losses from some disorders are possible. Management may need to be modified to minimise risk. Consult your veterinarian or adviser when planning pasture improvement. The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and Local Land Services Amendment Act 2016 restrict some pasture improvement practices where existing pasture contains native species. Contact Local Land Services for further details.

Reviewed 2024