NZ Lifestyle Block - - Tales Of A Country Vet -

Both co­toneaster va­ri­eties pro­duce large amounts of highly vi­able seeds, ma­ture quickly, are very long-lived, and form dense (of­ten pure) stands, out­com­pet­ing na­tive shrub species in a wide range of habi­tats.


Spread­ing ev­er­green shrub or small tree to 2-5m. It has pale blue-green leaves and erect young stems cov­ered in downy hairs when young which be­come hair­less and dark red­dish-pur­ple when ma­ture. Clus­ters of 15-60 small white flow­ers ap­pear from Oc­to­ber to Jan­uary fol­lowed by scar­let or or­ange berries (4-7mm) from Fe­bru­ary to Au­gust.


Ev­er­green shrub or small tree to 3m+, sim­i­lar stems but with shiny leaves on top and white-grey hairs un­derneath. Clus­ters of 7-15 small pink­ish flow­ers ap­pear from Novem­ber to Jan­uary, fol­lowed by scar­let or or­ange berries (5-9mm).

ON THE DAY of writ­ing, I was in the town­ship of Mil­ton (cue the ‘Mil­ton in Mil­ton’ jokes). I de­cided to go for a walk to try and get the blood flow go­ing af­ter a day in­side, and found my­self – as I of­ten do – clam­ber­ing through empty lots and sec­tions look­ing for in­ter­est­ing weeds. I didn’t find too many weeds but I did see some im­pres­sive-look­ing strikes of flea­bane.

Flea­bane ( Conyza suma­tren­sis) is a com­mon an­nual weed found in waste­land ar­eas all over New Zealand, but it’s also be­com­ing a ma­jor weed com­peti­tor of pas­tures and or­chards in warmer, drier ar­eas. It is orig­i­nally na­tive to South Amer­ica, which flies in the face of its sci­en­tific name ‘suma­tren­sis’. It was orig­i­nally found in Su­ma­tra in In­done­sia – hence the name – but was later de­ter­mined to have come from sub­trop­i­cal South Amer­ica. Flea­bane has now ef­fec­tively spread to most of the world.

It is a mem­ber of the Aster­aceae fam­ily so its no­table cousins in­clude this­tles, ar­ti­chokes, cof­fee, let­tuce and sun­flow­ers. There’s a long history of its use as a flea re­pel­lent, but un­for­tu­nately I am un­able to con­firm or deny whether it works as there is no de­fin­i­tive data to show ef­fi­cacy. I can say anec­do­tally that I know of a num­ber of peo­ple who put dried flea­bane stalks and leaves in their dogs’ beds and swear by it, but I am yet to be con­vinced.

It’s quite a dis­tinc­tive weed. It be­gins its life as a small tight rosette, with flat, broad leaves fea­tur­ing lit­tle notched teeth along the sides that point to the end of the leaf. Soon af­ter es­tab­lish­ment the plant be­gins to bolt and pro­duces mul­ti­ple tall up­right stems that are densely cov­ered in leaves. Th­ese stems can eas­ily reach 2m or even higher in the right en­vi­ron­ment.

Soon af­ter, the plant pro­duces an enor­mous num­ber of very small creamy yel­low flow­ers. Th­ese flow­ers pro­duce a mas­sive num­ber of small fine seeds, each with their own feath­ery parachute that lets the wind carry them for miles. If one flea­bane plant sur­vives to drop seed it can spread over a wide area very quickly. Con­trol of flea­bane can take a lit­tle work. An­i­mals won’t eat it so they’re no help, and of­ten there is too much to ef­fec­tively weed it by hand. It isn’t very com­pet­i­tive at young stages of growth so main­tain­ing good dense pas­tures can help keep it out.

Chem­i­cal con­trol can be tricky as flea­bane is rel­a­tively tol­er­ant of many chem­i­cal her­bi­cides. In or­chards, glyphosate can be used but only when the plant is in its very young growth stages.

In pas­ture you can use 2,4D or MCPA but again, th­ese prod­ucts will only work when flea­bane is at the rosette stage. Once it’s too big, you’ll sup­press it but you won’t kill it. n

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