Mother of Millions

Do you have Mother of Millions in your garden?

Mother of Millions is a very poisonous weed. It is spreading through towns in WA, many people, unaware of the danger to native environments are growing it in their gardens where it quickly takes over. In the east it has taken over huge areas of native bushland! In Queensland and NSW Mother of Millions has been declared a noxious weed. If the communities of WA want to protect their native bushland, they need to act now and form community action groups to remove Mother of Millions from gardens now before it is too late!

Bryophyllum x houghtonii (left) and Bryophyllum delagoense (right)

THE name “mother-of-millions” may conjure up images of comfort and caring, but this red-flowered ornamental plant is a real killer.

Not only is it poisonous to people, native animals and pets, but it constitutes a serious risk to stock, as poisoned cattle die of heart failure.

The toxins are present in all parts of the plant, though the red, bell-shaped flowers are five times more poisonous than the leaves and stems.

Mother-of-millions are in flower through to October.

In one sense, mother-of-millions is a very apt name for this Class 4 Noxious Weed. Each plant can produce hundreds of seeds that can survive in the soil for a number of years. The plants reproduce from seeds, leaf, stems and root fragments.

When the fragments fall to the ground – dropped during control efforts or spread via mowing or slashing – they put down roots and re-establish as new plants.

The plant has been spread by kangaroos who hop through it. A fragment of the plant gets caught between their paws are grows into a new outbreak of hundreds of plants where it falls off the kangaroo.

As a Class 4 Noxious Weed in the Mid Coast area, the plant must be managed to continuously stop its ability to spread. It must not be sold, propagated or knowingly distributed.

I grew up in Queensland at Tabletop Estate near Toowoomba. I regularly walked through the native bushland when young. In the last five years the weed Mother of Millions has taken over the understory of a huge area and is spreading. We formed a Landcare group to try to contain it. From removing it without gloves I was poisoned and now suffer from skin burning irritation, animals that eat it die from heart failure. I was surprised to see it growing in the local garden at Mount Magnet WA then we came across it in peoples gardens in many towns in WA. People did not know what it was!

Mother-of-millions are native to Madagascar and are escaped ornamental plants. Five species are commonly naturalised in Queensland. It is well adapted to dry areas because of its succulent features. As the name suggests, one plant can reproduce a new generation from masses of embryoids (plantlets) that are formed on the leaf edges. This makes these plants hard to eradicate and follow up controls are essential. These plants, especially their flowers, are poisonous to stock and occasionally cause a significant number of cattle deaths. The plant flowers from May to October (during the drier months of the year) and the scarcity of feed at this time may cause cattle to consume lethal amounts of mother-of-millions. Legal requirements Mother-of-millions is a category 3 restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014. It must not be given away, sold, or released into the environment.

To control mother-of-millions, it is best to hand-pull plants, using gloves. All plant parts should be bagged and placed in the red bin.

Although individual plants are easy to remove, infestations are difficult to control due to the ability of all plant parts left behind to re-shoot.

Follow-up weeding is a must, as seeds and dropped plant parts will otherwise quickly re-infest the site.

Once removed, the infested area should be revegetated with more desirable plants to provide competition to future mother-of-millions seedlings and plantlets. If it is in your garden perhaps think about planting Australian natives such as Christmas Bell, Midgen Berry, and Westringia.

Your Community/Your Choice

Communities have 2 choices when they discover that a noxious weed is starting to get a hold in their community. They can

1. form a group of committed individuals to co-ordinate an action plan to notify the community and remove Mother of Millions street by street.

2. leave it to council

We chose option one and formed the Tabletop Estate Land Care Group and created our Facebook group! Our group of volunteers went door to door with a folder of images.

When people saw the danger, they always worked with us to removed Mother of Millions from their garden. Unfortunately, in Queensland it had already, in many areas got into the native bushland. In WA its not too late. If communities form action groups to take on the responsibility of removing Mother of Millions, it is possible to stop it spreading out of the towns and into the native environments. If communities choose to start a Landcare group that will go door to door informing the community about the dangers of Mother of Millions there is a chance that you could contain it before it spreads into the surrounding environment which has happened where I live to tragic effects.

Other communities acting to control Mother of Millions

Mother-of-millions – a native of Madagascar – was imported to Australia in the 1950s as a drought tolerant garden plant.  It’s now a restricted invasive plant in Queensland, and can’t be given away, sold or released into the environment.  Here in coastal NSW and the northwest slopes and plains, it’s a declared noxious weed which means landowners (or in this case boat-owners) have a legal requirement to control it.  Like two-thirds of Australia’s noxious weeds, it’s a garden plant that got away.

To add to its charm, mother-of-millions (aka bryophyllum delagoense) is also toxic to humans, native animal, pets and livestock.  If animals eat enough of it (5 kilos for an adult cow) they quickly die with heart failure.  If they just have a snack, they’ll get bloody diahorrea, drool saliva, dribble urine and then die of heart failure.  Fortunately cattle are probably safe from this particular crop of bryophyllum.  Unless they are bovines with boats, or like a good swim.

You can pull mother-of-millions out by hand but it is, apparently, a soul destroying job.  The plant can reproduce from tiny seeds, dispersed both by wind and water – I’ve certainly seen colonies in bushland by Berowra Creek.  I hate to think how far and wide the seeds from this estuarine Typhoid Mary have spread.  The seeds remain dormant in the soil for ages, so getting rid of mother-of-millions is not a one-time-only job.  Like its toxic relative bryophyllum pinnate – the evocatively named resurrection plant – little plantlets growing on the leaves can also detach as you’re weeding.   Any tiny fragment of leaf can generate a new infestation.  You can spray it with herbicide, leave it in a black plastic bag to die, or hope for a visit from the (also introduced) South African Citrus Thrip which burrows through the leaves’ waxy coating to lay eggs on its flesh.  But none of this horticultural horror show works as well as setting it on fire.

We all have a biosecurity duty, of course: “any person… 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”.  And as a responsible gardener and card-carrying greenie, I take those duties seriously.  However I’m not sure the owner of this rickety vessel would embrace the idea of a passing kayaker with a molotov cocktail torching his boat, for all its mother of infestations.

Mother-of-millions Bryophyllum delagoense (syn. B. tubiflorum, Kalanchoe delagoensis) and Bryophyllum × houghtonii Restricted invasive plant 2 Mother-of-millions Bryophyllum spp. At a local level, each local government must have a biosecurity plan that covers invasive plants in its area. This plan may include actions to be taken on certain species. Some of these actions may be required under local laws. Contact your local government for more information. Description Mother-of-millions are erect, smooth, fleshy succulent plants growing to 1 m or more in height. All species form tall flower spikes in winter with clusters of bell-shaped flowers. Each species has a distinctive leaf shape, but all produce small plantlets along the edges of the leaves. These plantlets drop readily, develop roots and establish quickly to form a new colony. Bryophyllum delagoense syn. B. tubiflorum and Kalanchoe delagoensis (common mother-of-millions, mission bells, Christmas bells) has grey-brown, fleshy, tubular-like leaves with up to seven projections at the tip of each leaf. The flowers are orange-red and occur in a cluster at the top of a single stem. Seeds can germinate for some years. Bryophyllum × houghtonii syn. B. daigremontianum × B. delagoense, Kalanchoe × houghtonii (hybrid or crossbred mother-of-millions) has similar flowers arranged in a branched cluster at the top of the stem. Its leaves are boat shaped with thick stalks and notches along the edges of the leaves. A third species, Bryophyllum pinnatum resurrection plant, live-leaf has yellow-green, oval, fleshy leaflets with wavy edges and up to five leaflets per leaf. Its flowers are yellowish-green, often tinged with pink, and occur in loose clusters on stalks growing at intervals along the upper portion of the stem. Life cycle Mother-of-millions flowers in Winter and reproduces by seed and by tiny plantlets that are produced at the tips of its fleshy (succulent) leaves. Dislodged leaves and broken leaf parts can also take root and give rise to new plants. Methods of spread Mother-of-millions is commonly spread by gardeners and in garden waste. The tiny seeds are probably wind and water dispersed and its leaves and plantlets may also be dislodged and spread by animals, vehicles, machinery, soil and slashers. Habitat and distribution Native to Madagascar, these popular succulent garden plants have escaped cultivation and spread in various areas of Queensland. They have become a problem in pasture lands in the central highlands around Clermont, Emerald and Dingo, and the Burnett, Moreton and Darling Downs scrub regions. The plants establish well in leaf litter or other debris on shallow soils in shady woodlands, and often grow on roadsides, along fence lines and around old rubbish dumps. They can spread from these areas, especially in flood, and establish if pastures are run down. They are adapted to dry conditions and can survive long periods of drought. Toxicity These plants are toxic, especially their flowers, and occasionally cause a significant number of cattle deaths. When cattle are under stress or in unusual conditions they are more likely to eat plants that they would not normally eat. Shifting cattle to new paddocks, moving stock through infested rubbish dumps and wastelands, and reduction of availability of feed due to flood or drought can all contribute to cattle eating mother-of-millions and being poisoned. Poisoned cattle show signs of dullness, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and heart failure. Some cattle may drool saliva or dribble urine. There are two responses to poisoning: • acute—where cattle die within a day • chronic—where cattle may take up to five days to die. Some cattle may make a slow recovery if insufficient plant material was eaten. Poisoned cattle must be treated within 24 hours of consuming the plant. The treatment is intense and needs to be given by a veterinarian, or under their direction, because of the drugs and materials used. Control Managing mother-of-millions The GBO requires a person to take reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risks posed by mother-of-millions. This fact sheet provides information and some options for controlling mother-of-millions. Prevention and early detection The best form of control is prevention. Always treat new infestations when small—do not allow invasive plants to establish. Control is not cheap, but it is cheaper to do it now rather than next year, or the year after. Proper planning ensures better value for each dollar spent. Permanent control of mother-of-millions infested areas is best ensured by establishing more desirable plants in that location to compete successfully with future mother-of-millions seedlings and plantlets. This is best achieved through soil preparation, replanting, fertilising and using the area more productively. Ensure scattered infestations and small dumping areas on properties are regularly checked and cleaned up. Day-today hygiene management will help prevent establishment. Co-operative control upstream and downstream of problem areas will help prevent re-infestation from other areas. To prevent poisoning, keep stock (especially hungry stock) away from infested areas until the plants are controlled. Mother-of-millions Bryophyllum spp. 3 Mechanical control For small areas, pull up plants by hand and burn on a wood heap. Alternatively, bag the plants and dump them in a bin, the contents of which are buried at council refuse tips rather than being recycled into mulch. Fire When suitable (e.g. after grading firebreaks), burn infestations and the accompanying debris on which mother-of-millions plants thrive. This is the most economical form of control, encourages grass competition and lessens the problem for following years, requiring only spot spraying with selective herbicides. Biological control The department is undertaking further research to identify potential biological control agents to support with management. South African citrus thrips South African citrus thrips Scirtothrips aurantii, is a major pest of citrus in South Africa, and a pest of mango, macadamia, banana and grape in that region. It was found in Brisbane in 2002. South African citrus thrips are not a recognized biological control agent under the Queensland Biosecurity Regulation 2016 and as such the South African citrus thrips and its host, mother-of-millions cannot be legally distributed. The South African citrus thrip is quite widespread through Queensland’s southern areas. It is unknown the distribution extent in other parts of Queensland. The thrip damages the outer tissue of the mother-of- millions plant and also lays its eggs under the outer tissue. Where high populations of thrips exist, the number of viable plantlets and flowers forming on mother-of-millions can be reduced. The thrips populations vary from year to year, according to mother-of-millions populations and climate. Herbicide control Before using any herbicide always read the label carefully. All herbicides must be applied strictly in accordance with the directions on the label. Where the addition of a wetting agent is recommended, always use a commercial wetting agent or surfactant. Mother-of-millions may be controlled with herbicides at any time of the year, but infestations are easiest to see in winter when the plants are in flower. Treating infestations at this time of year also has the benefit of preventing new seeds from developing on common mother-of-millions. Table 1. details the herbicides registered for mother-of-millions control. Further information Further information is available from your local government office, or by contacting Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 or visit Table 1. Herbicides for the control of mother-of-millions Situation Herbicide Rate Comments Pastures and non-crop land 2,4-D acid (e.g. Affray 300) 7 L/1000 L water per ha 70 mL/10 L water High volume foliar spray (handgun). High volume foliar spray (knapsack). Pastures, rights-of-way and industrial 2,4-D amine 700 g/L (e.g. Amicide Advance 700) 360 mL/100L water Handgun and knapsack only. Thorough coverage is essential. Use a surfactant (e.g. Nufarm Activator) (consult label). Pastures, rights-of-way, non-crop land, forests, non-agricultural land and commercial and industrial areas Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L (e.g. Conqueror) or Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L + Aminopyralid 8 g/L (e.g. Grazon Extra) 500 mL/100 L water 50 mL/10 L water High volume foliar spray (handgun, knapsack). Always add a wetting agent (e.g. BS-1000 or Chemwet 1000) at 100 mL/100 L water. Apply at flowering. Fluroxypyr 200 g/L (e.g. Flagship 200) 600 mL/100 L water + surfactant (consult label) Apply to seedlings and young plants before flowering. Fluroxypyr 333 g/L (e.g. Starane Advanced) 360 mL/100 L water + surfactant (consult label) Fluroxypyr 400 g/L (e.g. Comet 400) 300 mL/100 L water + surfactant (consult label) Notes Thorough, even coverage of leaves and plantlets is necessary. Note that many 2,4-D products are not registered for control of mother-of-millions in Queensland. Only use products registered for the purpose. Read the label carefully before use. Always use the herbicide in accordance with the directions on the label. This fact sheet is developed with funding support from the Land Protection Fund. Fact sheets are available from Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) service centres and our Customer Service Centre (telephone 13 25 23). Check our website at to ensure you have the latest version of this fact sheet. The control methods referred to in this fact sheet should be used in accordance with the restrictions (federal and state legislation, and local government laws) directly or indirectly related to each control method. These restrictions may prevent the use of one or more of the methods referred to, depending on individual circumstances. While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of this information, DAF does not invite reliance upon it, nor accept responsibility for any loss or damage caused by actions based on it. © The State of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2020.