Pretty, but not at all welcome

The masses of pretty purple-blue flowers one often sees along roads at this time of year – also at Landmeterskop – are in fact a menace, and one that is difficult to get rid of. Paterson’s Curse (Echium plantagineum), also known as Salvation Jane (English); Franklin weed or purple echium, is a Category 1 Declared Weed in terms of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, Act 43 of 1983, which must be removed by landowners as it competes with cultivated crops and pasture species and indigenous ruderal species. (In Afrikaans these are called bloudisseldoring or natterkop.)

Echium plantagineum is native to western and southern Europe (from southern England south to Iberia and east to the Crimea), northern Africa, and southwestern Asia. It has been introduced to Australia, South Africa and United States and is an invasive plant. Due to a high concentration of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the shoot it is poisonous to grazing livestock, especially those with a simple digestive system like horses. The toxins are cumulative in the liver and death results from too much Paterson’s curse in the diet.

It is a deep-rooted biennial that can grow up to 1m high. The leaves and stems are covered with coarse, white hairs. The stem leaves are long and small and the basal rosette leaves are broad and large with prominent lateral veins. Blue or purple flowers appear from spring to autumn.

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