Paterson's Curse's namesake not to blame

Researchers clear Mrs Paterson's name, say weed first introduced by livestock

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The Graham Centre researchers have found Paterson's Curse, also known as Salvation Jane or Riverina Bluebell, was most likely introduced to Australia through the importation of sheep.

The Graham Centre researchers have found Paterson's Curse, also known as Salvation Jane or Riverina Bluebell, was most likely introduced to Australia through the importation of sheep.

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Invasive weed traced back to pit stops in South Africa.

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Paterson's Curse is found throughout much of Australia and is estimated to cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

But, who's to blame for this invasive weed getting to Australia in the first place?

For years the story has been that the Paterson family of Albury were the first to introduce the plant, Mrs Paterson reportedly bringing it to Australia from the UK to plant in her garden in around 1880.

But, researchers from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation believe they have cleared her name.

Leading author of a study into the origins of Paterson's Curse in Australia, Dr Xiaocheng Zhu said they compared samples from the weed's native ranges in Spain and Portugal with non-native habitats, including Australia, the UK and South Africa.

"These locations were picked because many colonisers from Europe went from the UK to Australia, stopping at South Africa on the way," Dr Zhu said.

"The findings were interesting, we only found four genotypes of Paterson's Curse in the UK but we found 12 in Australia, meaning only some genotypes of the weed would have originated in the UK."

Dr Xiaocheng Zhu from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation is the lead author of a research paper on the origins of Paterson's Curse in Australia. Photo supplied.

Dr Xiaocheng Zhu from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation is the lead author of a research paper on the origins of Paterson's Curse in Australia. Photo supplied.

Dr Zhu said the results showed it was actually a pit-stop in South Africa that played an important role in the introduction of the weed.

"South Africa is not a native range of the species but there are 12 genotypes found there and 10 of the 12 South African genotypes are found in Australia," Dr Zhu said.

Dr Zhu said as the vessels coming from the UK to Australia were often carrying livestock, they also carried feed, which could have been contaminated by the weed seed.

"It is likely the weed was introduced with movement of feed or livestock, particularly Merino sheep imported to Australia, which was happening from the late 1700s," Dr Zhu said.

"It's pretty clear to us that Mrs Paterson and her family were not the first or only ones to bring the species here."

Dr Zhu said the research highlighted that the most abundant genotypes in southern Australia were also prevalent in southern Spain and therefore past and additional future biocontrol agents could be optimally sourced there.

The research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project led by Professors Leslie Weston and Geoff Gurr.

It involves Charles Sturt University, NSW DPI, Australian National Herbarium and international collaborators from Spain, UK, South Africa and US.

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