Ulex europaeus (gorse)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Threatened Species
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Detection and Inspection
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Ulex europaeus L.
Preferred Common Name
Other Scientific Names
- Ulex armoricanus Mabille
- Ulex compositus Moench
- Ulex europaea L.
- Ulex europaeus subsp. borealis Rothm.
- Ulex europaeus subsp. europaeus
- Ulex floridus Salisb.
- Ulex hibernicus G. Don
- Ulex major Thore
- Ulex opistholepis Webb
- Ulex strictus J. Mackay
- Ulex vernalis Thore
International Common Names
- English: common gorse; furze; whin
- Spanish: aliaga carqueja; aliaga tojo; argelaga; corena; espino amarillo; espinosa; maticorena; pica pica; retama; retama espinosa; toixo; tojo; toxo; yaguil
- French: ajonc; ajonc d'Europe; ajonc esineux; bois jonc; jonc marin; vigneau
- Portuguese: tojo-arnal
Local Common Names
- Brazil: chacay; picapica
- Finland: piikkiherne
- Germany: Europäischer Stechginster; Gaspeldorn; Gewöhnlicher Gospeldorn; Hechensame; Stechginster
- Italy: ginestra spinosa
- Netherlands: gaspeldoorn
- Poland: kolcolist zachodni
- Russian Federation: kolyuchi drok; uleks Evropeiski; utyosnik; utyosnik Evropeiski
- South Africa: Gaspeldoring
- Sweden: årttorne
- ULEEU (Ulex europaeus)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
U. europaeus was spread intentionally through most of the world in the 1800s and 1900s as a hedge plant, an ornamental and as a forage, although it is unlikely that it will be distributed to new areas for these purposes in future. It has large seeds and there is a threat from inadvertent introduction, but this is not high. U. europaeus was already declared a noxious weed 100 years ago in Australia and New Zealand, and is now a serious weed in many other countries, and poses a threat elsewhere where it is present but not yet invasive. It is an aggressive colonizer of disturbed habitats, and the risk from continued invasion in suitable climatic zones in countries where present is high. It is a tough, spiny, long-lived, tall shrub with a long-lived seed bank and is difficult to control. Thickets displace vegetation in grassland habitats, and outgrow and supplant tree seedlings in plantation forests. Heavy infestations modify soil and hydrological conditions, and so modify ecosystem processes. This plant poses a serious fire risk for indigenous ecosystems as well as managed habitats and human habitations.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Fabales
- Family: Fabaceae
- Subfamily: Faboideae
- Genus: Ulex
- Species: Ulex europaeus
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
There are 13 recognized species of Ulex native to southern Europe and North Africa (Rothmaler, 1941; Heywood and Ball, 1968; ILDIS, 2007; The Plant List, 2015), although USDA-ARS (2007) lists only five. Sub-species are also recognized within several species but the taxonomy of the genus is imperfectly understood (Heywood and Ball, 1968). Three subspecies of U. europaeus are recognized in the Flora Europaea (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2007), being subsp. europaeus Rothmaler subsp. latebracteatus (Mariz) Rothmaler and subsp. borealis Rothmaler.
DescriptionTop of page
U. europaeus is a woody, spiny shrub that normally grows to 2-2.5 m tall in its native range (Clapham et al., 1987), but up to 7 m tall where introduced such as in New Zealand (Lee et al., 1986). It normally grows erect with ascending stems. It is densely branched in the younger outer layers, but eventually bare at the base. It can adopt a prostrate habit where grazing is heavy, or where exposed to severe wind (Clements et al., 2001). It has shallow lateral roots that are often heavily nodulated, and often has a long central taproot (Grubb et al., 1968; Richardson and Hill, 1998). Seedlings have juvenile leaves that are usually trifoliate, and these are often retained basally in the first year of growth in a form resembling a rosette. As the primary stem begins to grow, spines (modified primary branches) begin to form in the axils of reduced leaves. Secondary and tertiary spines usually form on the primary spine (Millener, 1961; Richardson and Hill, 1998). The deeply-ridged green stems are clothed with sparse hairs, and spines are alternate. Green stems have a pronounced wax layer (Zabkiewicz and Gaskin, 1978a) and normally end in a terminal spine. Leaves are reduced to insignificant scales or phyllodes at the junction of the spine and the stem. The yellow, pea-like flowers are borne singly or in small axillary clusters. The flowers are 1.5-2 cm long. Petals are enclosed by two bracteoles 2-4 mm long, and by the calyx, which is two-thirds the length of the corolla. The calyx is covered with spreading hairs. The pods are initially green and pubescent but turn black as they mature. Seeds are dark brown, dark green or black, sub-ovate (unevenly sub-spherical) and 2-4 mm long, each bearing a yellow elaiosome (aril). There are one to six seeds per pod. U. europaeus subsp. europaeus has bracteoles that are ovate, sub-acute and 2-4 mm wide, and this subspecies occurs throughout the range of the species. U. europaeus subsp. latebracteatus is native only in north-western Spain and central Portugal, mainly near the coast, and has bracteoles that are sub-orbicular, obtuse and 2-4 mm wide (Heywood and Ball, 1968).
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
U. europaeus is native to Atlantic maritime regions (Zwölfer, 1962), abundant in western coastal area of continental Europe and the British Isles, and present but less common in inland Europe. It has become naturalized in Norway, Sweden, Poland (Holm et al., 1997) and Switzerland (Zwölfer, 1962). Its status as native to Italy and other countries of central Europe, and in localized montane districts of North Africa, remains uncertain. Two subspecies, europaeus and borealis are found throughout the native range, whereas subsp. latebracteatus is present only in Spain and Portugal.
U. europaeus has been widely introduced around the world and has colonized many maritime regions at temperate latitudes, but it has also established in the mountains of many islands in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean region (ILDIS, 2007), and has even been recorded on the remote and rarely visited Antipodes Islands southwest of New Zealand (Webb et al., 1998). In New Zealand, U. europaeus grows to an elevation of approximately 1000 m in the north, but generally to 650 m in cooler, more southern latitudes (Lee et al., 1986), and is present on over 5% of the land area not occupied by intact native forest or the alpine zone (Blaschke et al., 1981; Hill et al., 2000).
Distribution TableTop of page
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.Last updated: 17 Feb 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|Indonesia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Sri Lanka||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive||Planted|
|United Kingdom||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive|
|Canada||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-British Columbia||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|Costa Rica||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Present||Introduced||Planted|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Hawaii||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: before 1910|
|-New South Wales||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive||Planted|
|-South Australia||Present, Localized||Introduced||Planted|
|New Zealand||Present, Widespread||Introduced||1867||Invasive||Planted|
|Papua New Guinea||Present||Introduced||Planted|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
U. europaeus has been introduced intentionally to many temperate parts of the world as a hedge plant to contain grazing animals, as fodder, and even to assuage the nostalgia of European colonists (MacCarter and Gaynor, 1980; Gaynor and MacCarter, 1981; Richardson and Hill, 1998; Clements et al., 2001). Charles Darwin reported U. europaeus growing in New Zealand in 1835, but it was first recorded as naturalized in 1867 (Webb et al., 1988). It was intentionally introduced across the landscape as a hedge plant, naturalized quickly, and was already declared noxious by law in 1900 (MacCarter and Gaynor, 1980). It was introduced to Australia for the same reasons before 1845, was naturalized by 1889 and was a recognized weed by 1909 (Richardson and Hill, 1998). U. europaeus was introduced to Hawaii before 1910, possibly as a contaminant in the wool of imported sheep, and became a weed in the 1930s when cattle replaced sheep on extensively grazed rangelands (Tulang, 1992), and now covers 4000 ha on Hawaii island alone (Leary et al., 2005). In Jamaica, it was first collected in 1888 (US National Herbarium). Elsewhere in its exotic range, U. europaeus may have been introduced accidentally when European colonists imported animals and hay.
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
The risk of introduction of U. europaeus to be used as a hedge plant is low to moderate. It is unlikely that U. europaeus would be imported in seeds for sowing because the seed is large and an obvious contaminant. However, it could be transported inadvertently in mud on vehicles, on imported animals or in imported livestock feed.
HabitatTop of page
U. europaeus is an evergreen, vigorous shrub with the potential to colonize disturbed grounds, depleted pasture, and eroded areas, including forest gaps that are often induced, and then maintained by fire. In New Zealand it is common in poorly managed pastures and plantation forests. In mainland Australia it is typically found on stream banks, roadsides, forest margins and mine dumps (Richardson and Hill, 1998). Holm et al. (1997) notes its presence on riverbanks, grasslands and open forests, and as hedges or mixed with roadside scrub. In Australia, it is mainly a weed of hillsides, waterways, roadsides, railways, pastures, grasslands, open woodlands, forests, disturbed sites, coastal areas, waste areas and forest margins in temperate regions.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Rocky areas / lava flows||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Rocky areas / lava flows||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
Although often used as a hedging plant, U. europaeus is not generally a weed of crops, but does invade pasture land, and has become a serious environmental weed in some countries.
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
Biology and EcologyTop of page
U. europaeus has a base chromosome number of n=16. U. europaeus subsp. europaeus is hexaploid (2n=96), but U. europaeus subsp. latebracteatus is tetraploid (2n=64) (Misset and Gourret, 1996). Diploid species (2n=32) of Ulex are also reported (Heywood and Ball, 1968). Hybrids between U. europaeus and U. gallii are known to occur (Heywood and Ball, 1968; Benoit, 1969; Misset and Fontenelle, 1992).
Physiology and Phenology
Vegetative buds form between the scale-like leaves and the spines in early spring, and growth begins once seed set is complete in late spring (Hill, 1983). New shoots can develop in the distal 70% of the stem, but only one to four buds at the tip produce leading shoots. Older stems and crowns that have been damaged but not killed by fire, herbicides or mechanical damage can develop new shoots from epicormic buds beneath the bark. For this reason, roots and crowns of U. europaeus may be considerably older than the stems. The hard foliage of the previous year senesces as soft new growth begins. Apart from a period of 4-6 weeks in early summer, all green foliage on a plant is the current year's growth. Some spines and small stems turn brown and fall to the ground to form a thick persistent litter layer, but much dead material remains hanging within the growing bush for many years. This increases the standing dry matter, and provides fuel for fires. In dense stands, plants are single stemmed and erect, but are multi-stemmed and spreading where plant density is low (Richardson and Hill, 1998).
Long-established U. europaeus plants grew approximately 100 mm in a single year in southern England (Hill, 1983), but in newly colonized sites, shoots on young bushes can grow over 500 mm each year. Annual shoot growth varies greatly with the age of the plant, climate, and soil fertility. Lee et al. (1986) recorded growth of 200 mm/year in Otago, New Zealand. Average stem diameter increment was 5 mm/year, and average height increment was 200 mm/yr near Dunedin, New Zealand (Lee et al., 1986). Plants at this site attained a maximum age of 29 years, and a maximum stem diameter of 217 mm. Most stands were 2.5-5 m tall after 15 years. Wilson and Lee (1988) demonstrated that self-thinning in U. europaeus followed the standard -3/2 law. As stands age, the canopy opens. Lee et al. (1986), measured increased rates of germination to an average of 22 seedlings/m² under 26 to 30 year-old U. europaeus. An annual rate of accumulation of over 10-15 t/ha/year in stands up to 10 years old has been recorded. Rates of nitrogen accumulation under U. europaeus range from 26 kg/ha/year in poor sites to 70 kg/ha/year (Richardson and Hill, 1998). Most biomass accumulates as a thick long-lasting layer of spine-rich litter that tends to acidify the soil under U. europaeus (Grubb et al., 1969; Grubb and Suter, 1970). Druce (1957) observed a U. europaeus plant at one site in New Zealand that appeared to be 46 years old, but 30-35 years appears a more typical maximum age there (Lee et al., 1986). Habitats colonized by U. europaeus are frequently disturbed, and plants commonly never reach maximum age.
Flowering phenology varies with latitude, altitude and climatic conditions (Hill et al., 1991). Where temperatures remain warm in late summer and autumn, most of the buds develop, flower, and produce pods in late summer and autumn. Where it is cool over this period, buds over-winter to flower en masse in spring (Hill et al., 1991). Some flowers can usually be found on U. europaeus from late summer to late spring. Seeds fall from late winter to early summer (Hill et al., 1991). U. europaeus has a long-lived seedbank, but the survival of seed in the soil varies from place to place. Moss (1959) could find no seed in soil where U. europaeus had not grown for 26 years. Hill et al. (2001) found that 90% of seeds intentionally buried at two sites disappeared from the seedbank within 10 years, but at a third site almost all seeds survived over the same period. In contrast, Partridge (1989) found seed buried deeply under a long-lived, mature Kunzea ericoides forest, presumably deposited before the forest developed. The viability of seeds in the U. europaeus seed bank is high, and dormancy can be broken by scarification (Chater, 1931) or by short exposure to high temperatures (Chater, 1931; Moss, 1959; Zabkiewicz and Gaskin, 1978b). These treatments simulate soil disturbance or canopy fire, ecological conditions that favour colonization by U. europaeus. Most seedlings germinate in spring, with a smaller flush in autumn. However, where there is sufficient moisture, seedlings can germinate throughout the year (Ivens, 1982). Seedlings appear to compete poorly with pasture vegetation (Popay and Adams, 1990; Rees and Hill, 2001).
Flower buds develop in the axils of secondary and tertiary spines in late summer, as new growth ceases and shoots harden. U. europaeus flowers rarely produce significant amounts of nectar (Walsh, 1967). However, honey bees (Apis mellifera) and Bombus spp. visit flowers to collect pollen and are major pollinators, larger bees triggering explosive pollen release. The flowers appear to be self-fertile, and there is some evidence that flowers can be either self-pollinated or pollinated by small insects moving inside flowers. Seeds have a hard, waxy, water-impermeable coat that can prevent immediate germination and allow the development of a long-lived seed bank in the soil. Buckley et al. (2003) found that seeds ranged in weight from 5.8 to 7.2 mg, but there was no significant difference between the mean mass of seeds collected in the native and introduced ranges.
Seed production varies greatly with plant age and condition. Few seeds are produced by plants less than 3 years old or by plants older than 15 years. Ivens (1978) measured annual seed production of 500-600 seeds per m² at one New Zealand site, and Hill et al. (1991) measured seedfall at 2120 seeds/m² at another. Seeds can be thrown up to 5 m from the parent bush (Moss, 1959), however, Hill et al. (1996) found that 40% of seed fell within 1 m of the centre of the bush and only 1.9% of the total seed fell between 2.4 and 2.5 m from the bush. The seed bank at two Spanish sites contained 645 and 1045 seeds/m² (Puentes et al., 1988), but studies in New Zealand have revealed soil seed densities of 722-20742, 2070, 2660 and 3486 seeds/m² (Popay and Adams, 1990). The viability of seed in the seed bank is high (Hill et al., 2001).
U. europaeus can be found on most soil types (Zwölfer, 1962), but it is reported to be a calcifuge and prefers soil of pH 4-5 (Grubb et al., 1970; Hartley and Popay, 1982). It can successfully colonize soils with low fertility, and has been reported in heathland communities growing over serpentine. Seedlings respond poorly to the application of lime and fertilizer, both through direct effects, and through increased competition from surrounding vegetation (Hartley and Popay, 1982; Phung et al., 1984; Popay and Adams, 1990).
Zwölfer (1962) suggested that U. europaeus grows best in Europe where annual rainfall exceeds 650 mm, and in wetter climates where summers were relatively dry. U. europaeus also grew best where winters were mild, i.e. where the mean daily minimum temperature of the coldest month, and the mean of minima over all winter months were above freezing. In its introduced range, U. europaeus grows best in climates with relatively even rainfall in the annual range 650-900 mm (Richardson and Hill, 1998), although MacCarter and Gaynor (1980) reported that in New Zealand it grows successfully where annual rainfall is 500-1500 mm. It grows in temperate, often oceanic climates with mild winters and mild to cool summers (Clements et al., 2001). U. europaeus is cold limited, not growing above 1000 m in New Zealand. It grows optimally where monthly temperatures average above zero, but its northward expansion in Europe and North America indicates ability to colonize coastal areas at higher latitudes (Clements et al., 2001). It tropical latitudes it grows in the montane areas, such as in Ecuador to 3200 m, and in Hawaii at 1000-2300 m but also at altitudes as low as 450 m (Tulang, 1992). At sea level it grows too fast to support itself, and so appears also to be limited by warm climates.
U. europaeus is a typical component of heathland vegetation in its native range, growing alongside heather, heaths, bracken, and grasses typical of low fertility sites, such as Deschampsia spp. and Holcus lanatus. Such heathlands often eventually revert to climax vegetation dominated by birch and/or pine woodland (Mitchell et al., 1998). U. europaeus is a colonizer of forest gaps that are often induced and then maintained by fire, and it fulfils a similar role in its introduced range. In areas with adequate rainfall and native seed sources, dense stands of U. europaeus can foster the accumulation of a native seedling bank. Once the spiny canopy begins to age, these native seedlings can grow to overtop the U. europaeus and restore native vegetation cover (Druce, 1957; Hackwell, 1980; Lee et al., 1986; Wilson, 1994). In contrast, in dry places U. europaeus cover may limit seedling survival and delay succession to native vegetation (Lee et al., 1986). U. europaeus has nitrogen-fixing bacteria associated with nodules on the roots near the soil surface (Zabkiewicz, 1976), and such nitrogen fixation may give it competitive advantage over non-legumes on nutrient-poor soils.
ClimateTop of page
|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)|
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||0||0|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||0||22|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||0||26|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||-2||0|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||0||0||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||500||1500||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
Special soil tolerances
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
|Apion ulicis||Herbivore||Hawaii; New Zealand|
|Exapion ulicis||Herbivore||Seeds||New Zealand|
|Sericothrips staphylinus||Herbivore||Leaves||New Zealand; Hawaii|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
There are 94 species of insects or mites found on U. europaeus in Europe, of which 16 were sufficiently host specific to be considered as biological control agents (Zwölfer, 1963; Schröder and Zwölfer, 1970; Hill, 1983). Zwölfer (1963) took 40 samples of U. europaeus roots in western Europe but found signs of insect attack in only one and there appear to be no root or stem feeding insects that might be potential control agents. An undescribed fly occasionally galls green stems in Europe (Hill et al., 2000).
In New Zealand, U. europaeus is attacked by a range of generalist insect species (MacCarter and Gaynor, 1980) but only one is considered damaging. Larvae of the pyralid moth Anisoplaca ptyoptera girdle beneath the bark of branches, and outbreaks often cause extensive dieback to affected plants (MacCarter and Gaynor, 1980). The pathogens attacking U. europaeus have been surveyed (Johnston et al., 1995), and Fusarium tumidum (Fröhlich and Gianotti, 2000) and Chondrostereum purpureum are being developed as potential mycoherbicides. The stem and bulb nematode, Ditylenchus dipsaci can form galls that deform shoot tips (Hill and Gourlay, 1990; Hill et al., 2000). The European eriophyid mite Aceria genistae has been recorded attacking U. europaeus in New Zealand (Hill and Gourlay, 1990) and California, USA (Chan and Turner, 1998) and larvae of the lycaenid butterfly Lampides boeticus have been recorded feeding on the flowers of U. europaeus in New Zealand (Harding, 1971) and Europe (Hill, 1983).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)
Tensions develop in the valves as pods mature eventually causing the dry valves to twist, eventually throwing the seeds explosively from the bush. Most seeds fall beneath the bush, but a small proportion are thrown up to 5 m (Hill et al., 1996). Seeds sometimes remain attached to the pod valve, and this debris can be blown across the ground by wind further dispersing the seed. Seeds do not float, but can be carried long distances by running water (Moss, 1959; Clements et al., 2001) which is why U. europaeus is common on riparian land and riverbeds.
Vector Transmission (Biotic)
U. europaeus seeds have a relatively large, fleshy elaiosome (aril). In its native range, ants harvest the fallen seeds and transport them to the nest to feed on the elaiosome (Ridley, 1930; Chater, 1931) and seeds may be dispersed relatively long distances in this way. The role of ants in the dispersal of U. europaeus seed in its introduced range is unknown. Seed can be found in the long fleeces of sheep or in mud adhering to animal hooves (Tulang, 1992). Chater (1931) recorded quail feeding on U. europaeus seed, but was not certain whether seeds survived digestion by birds. Seeds are spread by animals, and although reports of dispersal by birds are controversial, perhaps because there are many different carriers but U. europaeus is commonly seen under trees and around fence posts which is a feature of seed deposit by birds (Holm et al., 1997).
Although the seed is heavy, it may be bound into hay and other fodder. Invasion by U. europaeus often occurs along road margins. Seeds can be moved from place to place in mud adhering to farm machinery, road-making machinery and other vehicles. U. europaeus seedlings cannot compete strongly with other vegetation (Ivens and Mlowe, 1980; Wilson, 1994; Rees and Hill, 2001) but are an effective colonizer of disturbed ground. Agricultural practices that disturb the soil or eliminate competitive plant species such as overgrazing, overstocking, erosion or landslips promote colonization by U. europaeus.
It is likely that U. europaeus was introduced to some countries as seed attached to imported animals or as a contaminant of their fodder (Tulang, 1992) and this threat still exists. Seeds can also be carried in road-making materials mined or quarried from infested riverbeds.
U. europaeus has been introduced into many countries for nostalgic reasons, thus with ornamental value, and to provide a thorn hedge for containing grazing animals.
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Digestion and excretion||Transported by ants, and eaten by quail||Yes||Chater (1931)|
|Flooding and other natural disasters||Yes||Clements et al. (2001)|
|Forage||As a contaminant of hay||Yes||Yes||Tulang (1992)|
|Harvesting fur, wool or hair||In wool||Yes||Yes||Tulang (1992)|
|Hedges and windbreaks||Yes||Yes||Hoshovsky (1986)|
|Self-propelled||Exploding pods||Yes||Hill et al. (1996)|
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Fruits (inc. pods)|
|Growing medium accompanying plants|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches|
|True seeds (inc. grain)|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Cultural/amenity||Positive and negative|
|Economic/livelihood||Positive and negative|
|Environment (generally)||Positive and negative|
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
Economic ImpactTop of page
U. europaeus forms dense monotypic stands in disturbed habitats, and can therefore displace pastoral vegetation in rangelands and restrict access by grazing stock to both forage and water sources. It also competes with tree seedlings for light and water in plantation forests in New Zealand (Richardson et al., 1996; Richardson and Kimberley, 1997) and Chile (Richardson and Hill, 1998), and impedes silvicultural operations (Hill and Sandrey, 1986). Control of U. europaeus in both situations exacts an economic cost, but this has not been estimated.
Environmental ImpactTop of page
The high standing biomass of U. europaeus makes it a serious fire risk. It often grows on the margins of forests, and can carry fire into the forest, which is a serious environmental risk in areas of high conservation value. As a weed of roadsides and undeveloped land, U. europaeus is also a serious fire risk in peri-urban areas. Fire or inefficient browsing may keep succession suspended at an early stage of development (Wilson, 1994). The U. europaeus canopy intercepts a high proportion of the precipitation during rainfall events, the soil beneath thickets being often dry (Aldridge, 1968; Lee et al., 1986), and large infestations may therefore influence local hydrology. U. europaeus fixes nitrogen, and there is marked acidification of the soil underneath (Grubb and Suter, 1970). These and other environmental changes mediated by U. europaeus thickets may inhibit the establishment of native seedlings (Lee et al., 1986) and may change the floristics of succession.
U. europaeus threatens biodiversity by establishing dense thickets that inhibit the growth of other plants. It can displace native pioneer plants following disturbances, disrupting the natural succession and changing the vegetation composition in the ecosystem. Many rare plants occur in sites infested by U. europaeus in British Columbia, Canada (Clements et al., 2001). It is a fire risk that threatens valued habitats and acidification and nitrification alters the route for recolonization by native plants.
U. europaeus is an important structural and floral component of the southern English heathland habitat occupied by the threatened Dartford warbler, Sylvia undata (Bibby, 1979).
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
Social ImpactTop of page
U. europaeus is considered a serious weed in most of its introduced range, but many beneficial attributes have been identified. It is nonetheless a thorny shrub that can form impenetrable thickets preventing access where it has invaded. The increased fire risk posed by U. europaeus infestation can threaten rural residences.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Is a habitat generalist
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Highly mobile locally
- Long lived
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Reproduces asexually
- Has high genetic variability
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Modification of fire regime
- Modification of hydrology
- Modification of nutrient regime
- Modification of successional patterns
- Monoculture formation
- Negatively impacts forestry
- Negatively impacts livelihoods
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Threat to/ loss of endangered species
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Competition - shading
- Rapid growth
- Produces spines, thorns or burrs
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
U. europaeus has a wide range of values apart from its use as a hedge, and as a nurse crop. In its native range, crushed plants were used as a livestock fodder and for bedding and it is still harvested in Portugal to produce silage for stock consumption. It has been suggested as a renewable energy source (Callaghan et al., 1980). It has ornamental value, and a sterile cultivar of U. europaeus has been selected for and used in Australia as an ornamental (Anon., 1986). Flower essences and other plant extracts are sold as alternative medical treatments and as homeopathic remedies. In New Zealand it is regarded as an important source of pollen for bees in spring (Walsh, 1967; Hill and Sandrey, 1986), as a potential fodder crop for goats (Radcliffe, 1986; Lambert et al., 1989) and in some places as a nurse crop for regeneration of native forests (Hackwell, 1990; Wilson, 1994). Lectins extracted from U. europaeus seeds bind selectively to certain glycoproteins and glycoplipids, and are widely used in tissue typing, particularly blood-typing (Audette et al., 2000). More recently this lectin has been used as a marker for human endothelial cells, for typing other tissues, and for disease diagnosis. Research has yielded other bioactive phytochemicals from U. europaeus that have potential uses in antibiosis, disease treatment and pest management (e.g. Hasnah Mohd Sirat and Russell, 1989; de Rodrigues et al., 1990; Russell et al., 1990; Maximo et al., 2002).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Boundary, barrier or support
- Erosion control or dune stabilization
- Landscape improvement
- Shade and shelter
- Soil conservation
Human food and beverage
- Honey/honey flora
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
Detection and InspectionTop of page
With the advent of modern fencing methods, it is unlikely that U. europaeus will ever be introduced to another country for this purpose, and it is also unlikely that U. europaeus would be imported in seeds for sowing because the seed is large and an obvious contaminant. However, it could be transported inadvertently in mud on vehicles, on imported animals or in imported livestock feed. It is a declared noxious weed in four states of the USA; California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington (USDA-ARS, 2007).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
U. europaeus commonly grows alongside other Ulex species in its native range, but can be distinguished from them by flower morphology (Heywood and Ball, 1968). U. minor has been recorded in New Zealand (Webb et al., 1998) but U. europaeus is the only other Ulex species to have naturalized outside Europe and North Africa. U. europaeus is easily distinguished from U. minor, which grows to only 1.5 m tall and has densely packed spines that are usually less than 1 cm long. In U. minor the corolla is 7-11 mm long, compared with 13-20 mm for U. europaeus.
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
U. europaeus cannot tolerate deep shade. Trees have been planted specifically to suppress U. europaeus on the island of Maui (Hawaii), Oregon (USA) and New Zealand (Hoshovsky, 1986; King et al., 1996; Tulang, 1992). Fire can also be used to manage the size and behaviour of the extensive seed bank in the soil. Fire kills a proportion of the seeds in the top 10 mm of the soil, and breaks dormancy in the remainder. Fire reduced the seed population by 54% from 2883 seeds/m² in one Oregon site (Clements et al., 2001) and by 62% in one New Zealand study (Rolston and Talbot, 1980), and by an average of 66% in another (Zabkiewicz and Gaskin, 1978b). A synchronous flush of germination follows, and a single application of herbicide can kill both the cohort of seedlings and the adult plants regenerating after fire damage. Pre-fire treatments can increase the intensity of the burn, and this can increase plant and seed mortality (Balneaves and Zabkiewicz, 1981). Ivens and Mlowe (1980) and others have shown that U. europaeus seedlings grow poorly in competition with grasses. Sowing grass seed after burning exploits this effect to further reduce seedling density, and medium intensity grazing enhances that reduction (Chater, 1931; Balneaves and Zabkiewicz, 1981; Hartley and Phung, 1982; West and Dean, 1990). Intensive grazing by goats can also be effective in eliminating even tall U. europaeus populations (Radcliffe, 1986).
Non-selective mechanical control methods including mowing, chaining, crushing, root-raking and cultivation have all been attempted with varying success (Hoshovsky, 1986; King et al., 1996; Clements et al., 2001).
U. europaeus is a very difficult plant to control by foliar herbicide application because the spiny foliage presents a low surface area for herbicide coverage, and because the significant deposition of epicuticular wax limits herbicide uptake. Specialized formulations are required to optimize herbicide retention, uptake and translocation (Zabkiewicz and Gaskin 1978a). Mature U. europaeus plants are difficult to kill with a single broadcast treatment of any herbicide. Plants are resilient, and after initial brown-out, new growth often regenerates strongly on living stems. Fire may be needed to remove most biomass, and to stimulate susceptible crown and stem re-growth before herbicide is applied. Fire also stimulates germination of seed from the seed bank, and seedlings are highly susceptible to herbicides. A common approach to control mature U. europaeus thickets is to burn (often after desiccation by herbicide) and to spray re-growth and seedlings at least once within one year. Herbicides that have been successfully used to control U. europaeus in various parts of the world include triclopyr, glyphosate, metsulfuron, clopyralid and picloram (Rolston and Devantier, 1983; Hoshovsky, 1986; Carruthers, 1989; Motooka et al., 1999). All treatments are more effective when applied to soft new growth from mid-spring to mid-summer. Several organosilicone surfactants increase the efficacy of metsulfuron and other herbicides by improving translocation (Dastgheib et al., 1994; Murray and Gaskin, 1997).
ULV (ultra-low volume) motorized backpack sprayer application is sometimes more effective than high volume application from ground or air (Popay et al., 1983). Where there is adequate access to the infestation, where stem densities are low, and where the scale of the problem allows, selective application of herbicide can be effective. Stems can be cut, and the cut surface treated immediately with a herbicide such as 50% glyphosate or metsulfuron in oil (Hartley and Popay, 1982) or herbicides in a gel formulation. Herbicides in oil will penetrate bark, and can be used as a basal treatment for stems (Hoshovsky, 1986). Herbicide pellets can be used to treat individual bushes.
The gorse seed weevil Exapion ulicis was the first biological control agent used against U. europaeus. Introduced to New Zealand in 1931, it was widely established by 1935 (Miller, 1970) and has destroyed approximately 35% of the seed crop annually since then (Cowley, 1983). A further six control agents have been introduced to New Zealand (Hill et al., 2000). The gorse spider mite, Tetranychus lintearius is a colonial species that was introduced in 1989 and it has become widely established (Hill et al., 1993). Severe outbreaks can severely bleach mature foliage and reduce growth rates. However, mite populations are regulated, particularly by the coccinellid beetle Stethorus bifidus and although outbreaks are common, they are usually short-lived. The thrips Sericothrips staphylinus was released in New Zealand in 1990 and is spreading slowly (Hill et al., 2001). Heavy populations can bronze foliage, but this has been rare in field populations so far. Three foliage-feeding Lepidoptera have been introduced. Agonopterix ulicetella was released in 1990 (Hill et al., 1995) and although firmly established, no populations have yet reached damaging proportions. Scythris grandipennis was released in 1993 but did not establish and Pempelia genistella was released in 1995 but has established at only two sites to date (Hill et al., 2000). The bivoltine seed-feeding moth Cydia succedana was introduced in 1992 to augment the seed predation provided by Exapion ulicis and it has spread rapidly and become abundant in New Zealand (Hill and Gourlay, 2002). Seed losses to predation by both insects exceed those from E. ulicis alone but the effect on the annual seed crop has yet to be assessed (Hill et al., 2000).
Exapion ulicis was introduced to the island of Maui, Hawaii, in 1956 and was established on the island of Hawaii in 1984, attacking 78% of seed pods by 1994. The gall-forming weevil Perapion scutellare was released in 1961 and again from 1989 but has not established. Agonopterix ulicetella was released in 1988 but, unlike in New Zealand, this moth has become abundant on the island of Hawaii and larvae destroy a high proportion of growing tips. Sericothrips was released in 1991 and is widely established and Tetranychus lintearius was released in 1995 (Markin et al., 1996). The infestation of U. europaeus in Hawaii is in a temperate climate at an altitude of approximately 2000 m on an otherwise tropical island. There appear to be no effective predators in this zone, and mite populations are permanently high. Damage to U. europaeus is consistently severe, but insufficient to cause plant death. Flowering success appears to be severely affected by mite damage. Pempelia genistella has also been released, but is not established. The rust fungus, Uromyces pisi f.sp. europaei was released in Hawaii (Markin et al., 2002) but has been recovered only once.
Exapion ulicis (Holloway and Huffaker, 1957) and Tetranychus lintearius have also been released on mainland USA. The mite is, however, regulated there by predatory mites (Pratt et al., 2002). Tetranychus lintearius was also released on St Helena in 1995, but again appears to be regulated by predatory mites (Julien and Griffiths, 1998). Exapion ulicis was released in Tasmania, Australia in 1939, but has not prevented the spread of U. europaeus (Julien and Griffiths, 1998). Tetranychus lintearius and Sericothrips staphylinus have also been released there (Ireson et al., 2003). E. ulicis, T. lintearius, and Agonopterix ulicetella have been released in Chile (Norambuena et al., 2001). The fungus Fusarium tumidum (Gibberella tumidum) is being developed as a bioherbicide for use against U. europaeus worldwide (Fröhlich and Gianotti, 2000).
A wide range of mechanical, chemical and cultural methods are used to manage populations of U. europaeus worldwide. There has been considerable research into the integration of herbicides, fire, over-sowing and grazing for the restoration of pastures in New Zealand, and for the preparation of land for plantation forestry (Gaynor and MacCarter, 1981). Hoshovsky (1986) and Clements et al. (2001) describe management of U. europaeus in North America integrating similar techniques. Recent modelling examines how different management techniques or disturbance regimes interact to affect U. europaeus populations, and the possible influence of biological control on such regimes (Rees and Hill, 2001). A common approach to control mature U. europaeus thickets is to burn (often after desiccation by herbicide) and to spray re-growth and seedlings at least once within one year.
ReferencesTop of page
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ContributorsTop of page
06/03/15 Updated by:
Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
30/11/2007 Updated by:
Nick Pasiecznik, Consultant, France
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