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Xanthium spinosum (bathurst burr)


  • Last modified
  • 11 October 2017
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Pest
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Xanthium spinosum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • bathurst burr
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Xanthium spinosum L.

Preferred Common Name

  • bathurst burr

Other Scientific Names

  • Acanthoxanthium spinosum (L.) Fourr.
  • Xanthium ambrosioides Hook. & Arn.
  • Xanthium catharticum Kunth

International Common Names

  • English: bathurst burr; dagger cocklebur; daggerweed; prickly burweed; spiny burweed; spiny clotburr; spiny cocklebur; thorny burweed
  • Spanish: cachurerra menor; cadillo; pegotes
  • French: lampourde épineuse
  • Portuguese: carrapichao; gatinhos; pica-tres

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: carrapicho-de-Santa-Helena; espinho de carneiro
  • Chile: abrojo; cepacaballo; clonqui; concli
  • Germany: Dornige Spitzklette
  • Iran: burweed
  • Italy: Lappola spinosa
  • Namibia: spiny cocklebur
  • Netherlands: gedoornde Stekelnoot
  • South Africa: boetebos
  • Sweden: tistelgullfro
  • USA: cocklebur; spiny clotbur; spiny cocklebur

EPPO code

  • XANSP (Xanthium spinosum)

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Asterales
  •                         Family: Asteraceae
  •                             Genus: Xanthium
  •                                 Species: Xanthium spinosum

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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X. spinosum is one of only two accepted species of Xanthium, the other being X. strumarium. The many other reported species in the literature were brought into synonymy by Love and Dansereau (1959). X. strumarium is a very variable species whereas X. spinosum is more homogeneous throughout its range. It is thought that the two species can hybridize. Although native to South America, the type specimen for X. spinosum is from Portugal.

Xanthium comes from the Greek word xanthos meaning the colour yellow and is thought to refer to the yellow dye extracted from some taxa (Parsons, 1973). The plant is known by a number of common names, of which Bathurst burr, spiny cocklebur, cocklebur and spiny clotbur are often seen in the English language literature. However, cocklebur is also sometimes used to refer to X. strumarium.


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Adapted from Pitcher (1989):

X. spinosum is a much branched annual herb, generally erect and somewhat woody, often 0.3-0.6 m in height, but sometimes up to 1 m tall and 1.5 m across. Stems are striate, yellowish or brownish grey and finely pubescent. True leaves are lanceolate, entire, irregularly toothed or lobed, mostly three-lobed with the center lobe much longer than the other two, 3-8 cm long, 0.6-2.6 cm wide. They are hairy (glabrous or strigose) and a dull grey-green colour above, and paler and downy (silvery-tomentulose) beneath, with a conspicuous white midrib, and each on short petioles approximately 1 cm long. Each leaf base is armed at the axil with three-pronged yellow spines usually up to 2.5 cm long, often opposite in pairs.

Flower heads are in axillary clusters or solitary. Flowers are inconspicuous, greenish, and monoecious; male flowers in almost globular heads in axils of upper most leaves, and female flowers in axils of lower leaves, developing into a burr. The burr is two-celled, oblong, nearly egg-shaped, slightly flattened, 10-13 mm long, 4 mm wide, pale yellowish to brown covered with yellowish hairs, more or less striate, glandular, covered with numerous slender, hooked, glabrous spines up to 3 mm long from more or less thickened bases, with the two apical beaks short and straight. Each burr contains two flattened, thick-coated, dark brown or black seeds, about 1 cm long, the lower germinating first.

Plant Type

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Seed propagated


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There appears to be disagreement over the native range of X. spinosum, though it is certain to have originated from South America. Some sources have suggested Chile, whereas others suggest a broader area that also includes at least Argentina, and possibly also other countries, which may be more probable. The native range proposed by USDA-ARS (2013) is used here, which includes Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and southern Brazil, though it also confirms that the limits of native range are obscure. Pitcher (1989) stated that X. spinosum had been introduced to at least 39 countries, though records for many more are available and the real figure may be higher still. It is widely distributed in the Mediterranean region, Europe, Australia, parts of Africa, South America and North America, though is only rarely found in the tropics (Holm et al., 1977).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


AfghanistanPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
ArmeniaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
AzerbaijanPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
ChinaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
-BeijingPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
-HenanPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
-XinjiangPresent Invasive Du et al., 2012; Song et al., 2012
Georgia (Republic of)PresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
IndiaPresent, ; Baburaj et al., 1994
-Tamil NaduPresent1994Baburaj et al., 1994First record, in the Nilgiri mountains
IranPresent Invasive Mirshekari and Siyami, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013Reported weed in Tabriz
IsraelPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
JapanPresentPIER, 2013
JordanPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
KazakhstanPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
KyrgyzstanPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
LebanonPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
NepalPresentGBIF, 2013
Saudi ArabiaPresentGBIF, 2013
SyriaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
TajikistanPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
TurkeyPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
TurkmenistanPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
UzbekistanPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
YemenPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013


AlgeriaPresent Invasive USDA-ARS, 2013
BotswanaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
EgyptPresent Invasive El-Metwally and Ahmed, 2001; USDA-ARS, 2013
EritreaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
EthiopiaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
LesothoPresentGBIF, 2013
LibyaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
MauritiusPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
MoroccoPresentGBIF, 2013
NamibiaPresent Invasive Bethune et al., 2004Central and eastern regions
RéunionPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
South AfricaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
-Canary IslandsPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
ZimbabwePresentUSDA-ARS, 2013

North America

CanadaPresent Invasive Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
-New BrunswickPresentUSDA-NRCS, 2013
-OntarioPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
-QuebecPresentUSDA-NRCS, 2013
-SaskatchewanPresentUSDA-NRCS, 2013
MexicoPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
USAWidespread Invasive USDA-ARS, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
-AlabamaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-ArizonaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-CaliforniaPresent Invasive Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
-ColoradoPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-ConnecticutPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-DelawarePresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-District of ColumbiaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-FloridaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-GeorgiaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-IdahoPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-IllinoisPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-IndianaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-IowaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-KansasPresent Invasive Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
-KentuckyPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-MainePresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-MarylandPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-MassachusettsPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-MichiganPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-MississippiPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-MissouriPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-MontanaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-NebraskaPresent Invasive Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
-NevadaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-New HampshirePresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-New JerseyPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-New MexicoPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-New YorkPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-North CarolinaPresent Invasive Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
-OhioPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-OregonPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-PennsylvaniaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-Rhode IslandPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-South CarolinaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-TennesseePresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-TexasPresent Invasive Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
-UtahPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-VirginiaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-WashingtonPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013
-West VirginiaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2013

South America

ArgentinaPresent Invasive Istilart, 2005; Missouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
BoliviaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
BrazilPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
-Rio Grande do SulPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
-Santa CatarinaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
ChilePresentPIER, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
ColombiaPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013
EcuadorPresentMissouri Botanical Garden, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
ParaguayPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013
PeruPresentGBIF, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
UruguayPresentOlano et al., 1996; USDA-ARS, 2013


AlbaniaPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
AustriaPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
BelgiumPresentGBIF, 2013
BulgariaPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
CroatiaPresentGBIF, 2013
Czech RepublicPresentGBIF, 2013
Czechoslovakia (former)PresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013
DenmarkPresentGBIF, 2013
FinlandPresentGBIF, 2013
FrancePresentGBIF, 2013; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
GermanyPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
GreecePresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
HungaryPresentGBIF, 2013; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
ItalyPresentGBIF, 2013; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
LuxembourgPresentGBIF, 2013
MacedoniaPresentGBIF, 2013
MoldovaPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
NetherlandsPresentGBIF, 2013
NorwayPresentGBIF, 2013
PolandPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013; USDA-NRCS, 2013
PortugalPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
-AzoresPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
RomaniaPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
Russian FederationPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
-Central RussiaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013European part
-Eastern SiberiaUSDA-ARS, 2013Tyumen
-Northern RussiaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013European part
-Russian Far EastPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013Primoye
-Southern RussiaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2013European part
-Western SiberiaUSDA-ARS, 2013Altay
SlovakiaPresentGBIF, 2013
SpainPresentGBIF, 2013; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
-Balearic IslandsPresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013
SwedenPresentGBIF, 2013
SwitzerlandPresentGBIF, 2013; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013
UKPresentGBIF, 2013
UkrainePresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
Yugoslavia (former)PresentRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2013


AustraliaPresent Invasive PIER, 2013
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresent Invasive PIER, 2013; Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2013
-New South WalesPresent Invasive Holm et al., 1977; PIER, 2013; Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2013
-QueenslandPresent Invasive PIER, 2013; Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2013
-South AustraliaWidespreadRoyal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2013Eastern parts of the state
-TasmaniaLocalisedRoyal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2013
-VictoriaWidespreadRoyal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2013
-Western AustraliaPresentGardner and Meadly, 1947; Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 2013
FijiPresentPIER, 2013Viti Levu Island
KiribatiPresentPIER, 2013Teraina (Washington) Island
New ZealandPresent Invasive PIER, 2013; USDA-ARS, 2013
Papua New GuineaPresent Invasive Holm et al., 1977; USDA-ARS, 2013Eastern New Guinea Island

History of Introduction and Spread

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There are limited records regarding dates of introduction, though considering the ease of accidental introduction, X. spinosum seed may have started spreading a long time ago, following trade in livestock and other agricultural and forage commodities. Gardener and Meadley (1947) noted that it had only recently appeared in Western Australia, though it may have already been present elsewhere in Australia long before this. The first record in India appears to be in the Nilgiri Hills area of Tamil Nadu in 1994, and the first record in Xinjiang province in western China was in 2009. X. spinosum continues to spread.


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Tamil Nadu   Baburaj et al., 1994 Noted in the Niligiri mountains
Western Australia early 1940s Gardner and Meadly, 1947 Noted as 'recently apprearing' in 1947
Xinjiang 2009 Song et al., 2012

Risk of Introduction

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X. spinosum has all the attributes that make accidental introduction very likely, and it has already been introduced to so many countries it is likely to spread further. Noting its recent arrival in western China, further spread into Central Asia may be expected in the future, for example.


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X. spinosum can be found growing in a wide variety of habitats. Holm et al. (1977) described X. spinosum as mainly a pasture or meadow weed, growing along roads and in disturbed areas and abandoned fields, also being sometimes common around waterholes and along floodplains, canals, ditches, creek flats, river terraces, and other moist places. It can also be common weed in cultivated fields, stock yards and abandoned settlements. In New Zealand it is noted in ‘waste places, coastal sites, pasture, cultivated land, gardens’ (PIER, 2013), whereas in Namibia, light to moderate infestations are observed along rivers and in disturbed agricultural areas such as cattle pens (Bethune et al., 2004). In Australia Parsons and Cuthbertson (1992) state its wide distribution is due in part to its ability to adapt to a range of climatic conditions and to thrive where the soil has been disturbed, allowing it to grow in pasture, wasteland, sheep camps, as well as coastal areas, watercourses, dam banks and floodplains. Where it is recently invasive in western China, it is also reported to occur in desert grassland and oases (Song et al., 2012).

Habitat List

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Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Arid regions Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Deserts Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
semi-natural/Scrub / shrublands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

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X. spinosum is recorded as a weed of cotton, maize, mungbean, sorghum, soyabean, sugarbeet, sugarcane, sunflower and tomatoes, as well as many other annual and perennial crops.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Beta vulgaris (beetroot)ChenopodiaceaeMain
Glycine max (soyabean)FabaceaeMain
Gossypium (cotton)MalvaceaeMain
Helianthus annuus (sunflower)AsteraceaeMain
Solanum lycopersicum (tomato)SolanaceaeMain
Vigna radiata (mung bean)FabaceaeMain
Zea mays (maize)PoaceaeMain

Biology and Ecology

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Both species of Xanthium are tetraploid with a chromosome number of 2n=36 (Love and Dansereau, 1959). Mitch (1987) provided detailed information on the origin, taxonomy, biology, identification, utilization, distribution and spread of both X. spinosum and X. strumarium. Both species may set seed without fertilization of the ovule, resulting in local populations where plants are genetically similar and may also differ only slightly from other populations.

Reproductive Biology

X. spinosum prefers moist soil and so seeds tend to germinate in late spring to late summer after early rains. Emergence can occur from spring until late autumn, and new fruits (or burrs) are produced two to three months after germination and emergence (Pitcher, 1989). Burrs have two elongated cavities, each containing a single seed, and an average of 150 seeds are produced by each plant.

The two seeds, however, have different characteristics. The lower of the two seeds has a shorter dormancy period, typically germinating a few months after maturity, whereas the upper seed can remain dormant for as long as eight years (Pitcher, 1989). This difference in dormancy may be due to site- and season-specific reasons (Auld, 1993), although the relative permeability of the seed coat to oxygen may also contribute, and high temperatures (32-38°C) can also overcome dormancy (Pitcher, 1989). Seed dormancy was not affected by partial fruit coat removal (Auld, 1993).

Optimal seedling emergence occurred when seeds were buried at depths of 1-4 cm, and was significantly reduced when buried to depths of 8 cm and deeper, and seeds in fruits placed on the soil surface failed to emerge entirely (Auld, 1993). In controlled environment studies and in the field, flowering was found to depend on day length, with flowering time decreasing with decreasing day length. Auld (1993) concluded that seed dormancy, the wide amplitude of seasonal emergence, the ability to flower quickly in cohorts and the ability of seed to germinate towards the end of the growing season could all potentially contribute to this plant’s success. Most plants die in the late autumn or early winter due to frost.


In the USA, Xanthium species are sometimes found growing with Arctium species, a European immigrant weed genus common in the USA.

Environmental Requirements

X. spinosum has proved remarkably adaptable to a wide range of climates and other environmental conditions, with the exception only of very cold polar/tundra conditions and very hot and dry or moist lowland tropical climates. In tropical regions it is generally only found at high altitudes. It appears to show no specific requirements regarding soil type.


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As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
D - Continental/Microthermal climate Preferred Continental/Microthermal climate (Average temp. of coldest month < 0°C, mean warmest month > 10°C)
Df - Continental climate, wet all year Preferred Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Preferred Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)
Dw - Continental climate with dry winter Preferred Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • impeded

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Chondrostereum orbiculare Pathogen
Colletotrichum coccodes Pathogen
Colletotrichum dematium Pathogen
Colletotrichum orbiculare Pathogen Australia
Puccinia xanthii Pathogen

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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The fruit can be widely dispersed in a wide variety of ways. The fruits float and are readily dispersed by water and can spread rapidly along watercourses. The hooked spines on the fruit adhere easily and cling firmly to wool and animal fur, as well as also to clothing, bags and any fibrous material, hay bales, and also in mud on shoes, tools or vehicles. Fruits are also spread in contaminated pasture seed and grain (PIER, 2013).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal production Yes Yes PIER, 2013
Aquaculture Yes Yes PIER, 2013
Flooding and other natural disasters Yes PIER, 2013
Harvesting fur, wool or hair Yes Yes PIER, 2013
Hitchhiker Yes Yes PIER, 2013
Seed trade Yes Yes PIER, 2013

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Clothing, footwear and possessions Yes PIER, 2013
Hides, trophies and feathersWool Yes Yes PIER, 2013
Land vehicles Yes PIER, 2013
Livestock Yes Yes PIER, 2013
Machinery and equipment Yes PIER, 2013
Plants or parts of plants Yes Yes PIER, 2013
Water Yes PIER, 2013

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
True seeds (inc. grain) No No

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Negative


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X. spinosum is a highly invasive weed that is capable of growing under a range of environmental conditions. It readily establishes in cultivated land, pastures, meadows and riverbanks and can threaten native or endemic wildlife (Pitcher, 1989). Being highly invasive, X. spinosum can compete both directly and indirectly with native species, alter habitats and, when present on river banks, can increase soil erosion and affect water flow and quality.

It competes with agricultural crops such as soybeans and cotton, leading to a drastically reduced yields (Auld et al., 1999), and infestations in soybeans have been reported to cause severe yield losses of 60-70% (Mirshekari and Siyami, 2013). Furthermore, burrs can contaminate wool and other material due to their hooked spines, potentially affecting export.

In the seedling stage, X. spinosum is poisonous as the seeds contain hydroquinone. Plants at the cotyledon stage are also toxic as well as palatable to livestock, and plant parts remain toxic even after drying, though toxicity decreases rapidly as the first true-leaves develop (Mitch, 1987). The plant can be especially poisonous to pigs and horses (Pitcher, 1989). Ingestion of cotyledons to 0.75-1.5% of an animal's body weight causes toxicity within 12-48 hours, symptoms being nausea, vomiting, lassitude, depression, weakened muscles and prostration. Severe poisoning can result in convulsions and spasmodic running movements, and death may occur within a few hours or days. Fatty substances such as milk, lard or linseed oil have been recommended as antidotes (Pilcher, 1989).

Observations showed that X. spinosum is also an important interim host of broomrape (Orobanche/Phelipanche ramosa) (Wilhelm and Benson, 1955). Additionally, the weed can act as a host for a number of fungal diseases of plants including Sclerotina minor

X. spinosum is a declared noxious weed in 46 states of the USA (USDA-NRCS, 2013), including being a noxious weed in Arkansas, a Class B noxious weed in Oregon and a Class C noxious weed in Washington.

Risk and Impact Factors

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Impact mechanisms

  • Allelopathic
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Interaction with other invasive species
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Poisoning
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
  • Rapid growth

Impact outcomes

  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Damages animal/plant products
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of hydrology
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Negatively impacts trade/international relations
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species


  • Abundant in its native range
  • Fast growing
  • Has a broad native range
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Proved invasive outside its native range

Likelihood of entry/control

  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult/costly to control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally


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The only recorded uses for X. spinosum are medicinal, as a diuretic. Plant extracts are used in popular medicine in Argentina (Amorin and Orfila, 1972).

Uses List

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  • Poisonous to mammals

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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X. spinosum differs from X. strumarium by having much narrower leaves that taper at both ends, shorter petioles, conspicuous three-pronged spines at the leaf base and ovoid burrs covered with hooked thorns.

Prevention and Control

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Cultural Control

Due to the burrs adhering to wool, the risk of transferring seed to new areas can be reduced by shearing sheep before moving them from infected to clean pastures (Nursey, 1959). In Australia, X. spinosum is one of the most serious weeds spread by livestock, which carry burrs from one centre to another, so early recognition is essential for effective control (Gardner, 1942). Due to its toxicity and unpalatability, grazing is not a useful control method.

Physical/Mechanical Control

Control is possible by early mowing, cultivation or crop rotation, or by cutting and burning before the burrs ripen. As this annual weed spreads entirely by seed, it can be relatively easily controlled by cultivation on arable land, and on pastures. Eradication should aim to prevent seed development for at least three years (Orchard, 1949; Parsons, 1973). Single plants can be easily pulled out or hoed. If removal is done after flowering, it is important to burn the plants to ensure that the seeds are completely destroyed (Pitcher, 1989). Due to the long dormancy of the seeds, periodic repeated physical control will be required.

Chemical Control

The most common type of chemicals used to control X. spinosum are the broad-leaf selective herbicides. Young plants are easily killed by one application of 2,4-D or MCPA applied to healthy, growing, non-flowering plants, whereas older plants need more than one application (Meadley, 1956; Orchard, 1949). The most effective time for the application of 2,4-D is reported to be at the 3-5 leaf stage of growth, when it is able to better penetrate the waxy coat on the leaves (Pitcher, 1989), or before the flowering stage in February-March (Nursey, 1959). Imazaquin is also reported to be effective (Weber, 2003), and in irrigated soyabeans in New South Wales, Australia, imazaquin gave significantly more control of X. spinosum than bentazone, but did not control X. spinosum when applied after the formation of the 3 pronged spines (Andrews, 1993). However, Andrews (1993) considered that imazaquin provided the greater season-long control and was therefore the preferred herbicide.

Biological Control

The potential of using insects as a biological control agent has been assessed in Australia, India, Pakistan and United States, but with limited success (Pitcher, 1989). Investigations were conducted into the possibility of biological control by infection with the fungus Colletotrichum xanthii, a fungus which causes stem lesions (Orchard, 1949). The rust Puccinia xanthii was also found to attack several parts of the plant, reducing plant transpiration, burr production and seed germination (Pitcher, 1989).

The most effective mycoherbicide to date is Colletotrichum orbiculare. It can be applied in a similar way to herbicide applications and causes leaf and stem lesions, killing the plant in just 14 days under optimal conditions (Auld et al, 1988; 1990). Auld et al. (1990) undertook field applications of aqueous spore suspensions of 106 or 107 spores/ml at four sites, including a dryland pasture, an irrigated soyabean field and two sites where the effect of artificial dew was assessed using X. spinosum in pots in the field. Effectiveness was 50-100%, with the best results (98-100%) on the dryland grazing site. Providing an artificial dew period of 18 hours resulted in 100% mortality compared to only 50% under the natural dew period of 0.3 hours, with effectiveness correlated to humidity levels. It was considered that the formulation of a C. orbiculare spore suspension into a product with a low evaporation rate could play a significant role controlling X. spinosum (Auld et al., 1990).

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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X. spinosum has not been studied as thoroughly as X. strumarium. Further research is required regarding effective cultural and biological control.


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13/11/13 Original text by:

Nick Pasiecznik, consultant, France

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