Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Parkinsonia aculeata
(Mexican palo-verde)



Parkinsonia aculeata (Mexican palo-verde)


  • Last modified
  • 13 December 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Parkinsonia aculeata
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Mexican palo-verde
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • This is one of the most widespread and well-known woody weeds in hot regions, and has become naturalized and shown weedy tendencies in all countries where it exists, whether native or introduced. It is disliked for its thorns, forming dense impenetra...

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Small branchy tree with heavy pod crop growing in semi-arid conditions, Manabi, Ecuador.
TitleSmall branchy tree
CaptionSmall branchy tree with heavy pod crop growing in semi-arid conditions, Manabi, Ecuador.
CopyrightColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Small branchy tree with heavy pod crop growing in semi-arid conditions, Manabi, Ecuador.
Small branchy treeSmall branchy tree with heavy pod crop growing in semi-arid conditions, Manabi, Ecuador.Colin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Baja California Norte, Mexico.
TitleSmall branchy trees
CaptionBaja California Norte, Mexico.
CopyrightColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Baja California Norte, Mexico.
Small branchy treesBaja California Norte, Mexico.Colin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Natural stand on saline soil with salt crust, deep black vertisols, Zacapa, Guatemala.
TitleOn saline soil
CaptionNatural stand on saline soil with salt crust, deep black vertisols, Zacapa, Guatemala.
CopyrightColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Natural stand on saline soil with salt crust, deep black vertisols, Zacapa, Guatemala.
On saline soilNatural stand on saline soil with salt crust, deep black vertisols, Zacapa, Guatemala.Colin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
TitleFlowering shoot
CopyrightColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Flowering shootColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
TitleOrnamental flowers
CopyrightColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Ornamental flowersColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
TitleRipe indehiscent pods
CopyrightColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Ripe indehiscent podsColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Ripe pods of P. aculeata float in water for up to 14 days, promoting effective seed dispersal.
TitleDispersal of seed pods
CaptionRipe pods of P. aculeata float in water for up to 14 days, promoting effective seed dispersal.
CopyrightColin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford
Ripe pods of P. aculeata float in water for up to 14 days, promoting effective seed dispersal.
Dispersal of seed podsRipe pods of P. aculeata float in water for up to 14 days, promoting effective seed dispersal.Colin Hughes, Dept. Plant Sciences, Univ. Oxford


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Parkinsonia aculeata L.

Preferred Common Name

  • Mexican palo-verde

Other Scientific Names

  • Parkinsonia spinosa H.B.K.
  • Parkinsonia thornberi M.E. Jones

International Common Names

  • English: Barbados flower fence; Jerusalem thorn; Mexican paloverde; parkinsonia; retama
  • Spanish: Cina-cina; palo verde
  • French: Epine de Jerusalem; Genet epineux

Local Common Names

  • Argentina: cina cina; retamo rojo; sina sina
  • Barbados: holy thorn; royal cashiaw
  • Brazil: espinho de Jerusalem; rosa da turquia; rosa da turquina; turco
  • Costa Rica: sulphato
  • Cuba: espinillo; junco marino; palo de rayo; pararrayo
  • El Salvador: sulphato
  • Gambia: barkasoñé; barkasonyo; julugodi; parkasonu
  • Germany: Jerusalemdorn; Stacheliger Ginsterbaum
  • Ghana: zugu-bai-tia
  • Guatemala: palo de rayo; sulphatillo; sulphato
  • India: adanti; bawal; kikar; pardeshi baval; ram baval; rombawal; sima tumma; sima-tumma; vedi-badhal; vilayati babul; vilayati kikar
  • Italy: Ginestra spinosa; Spina di Jerusalem
  • Mexico: bacapore; bagote; cacaporo; cahuinga; guacóporo; guichebella; guichibelle; haocóporo; junco; junco marino; mezquite extranjero; mezquite verde; quechi-pelle; retama china; retama de cerda
  • Nicaragua: espino negro; sauce del playa
  • Niger: sassabaanii
  • Nigeria: bàgààrùwàr maka; bàgààrùwàr másàr; dán-sárkín ítáátúwàà; jannatu; sassabaanii; sharan labbi; shukar hali
  • Pakistan: kabuli kikar; vilayati kikar
  • Senegal: barkasoñé; barkasonyo; parkasonu
  • Somalia: geed walaayo
  • Sri Lanka: belaiti kikar
  • USA: horsebean

EPPO code

  • PAKAC (Parkinsonia aculeata)

Summary of Invasiveness

Top of page This is one of the most widespread and well-known woody weeds in hot regions, and has become naturalized and shown weedy tendencies in all countries where it exists, whether native or introduced. It is disliked for its thorns, forming dense impenetrable thickets that degrade pasture, choke waterways and prevent cattle reaching water. It was often introduced as a fodder, hedging or ornamental tree, with an ability to tolerate the driest and most saline sites and waterlogging, but prolific seeding led to rapid spread. It is a prohibited weed in Australia and a serious pest in many other countries.

Taxonomic Tree

Top of page
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Fabales
  •                         Family: Fabaceae
  •                             Subfamily: Caesalpinioideae
  •                                 Genus: Parkinsonia
  •                                     Species: Parkinsonia aculeata

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page The genus Parkinsonia is a member of the legume family (Fabaceae), subfamily Caesalpinioideae. As currently delimited it contains 29 species native to the Americas and Africa.

Parkinsonia aculeata is an easily recognized and morphologically well delimited species first described and illustrated in Plumier's Nova Plantarum Americanum Genera (1703). The original Linnaean citation was in the Hortus Cliffortianus (1737). Two species were described which were later placed in synonymy with P. aculeata, i.e. P. spinosa H.B. & K. and P. thornberi M.E. Jones; neither name gained wide usage. The most significant taxonomic controversy connected with the species concerns its dubious relationship with three east African species (P. scioana (Chiovenda) Brenan, P. anacantha Brenan and P. raimondoi Brenan), one south African species (P. africana Sond.) and with the small Central American genus Cercidium Tul. There has been more than a century of confusion surrounding the delimitation and subdivision of Parkinsonia L. and Cercidium (reviewed by Carter, 1974). Carter argued that Cercidium forms a discrete, easily recognisable genus confined to the Americas and preferred to consider Parkinsonia as monotypic, comprising only P. aculeata. However, a recent detailed study of the two genera suggests that the species of Cercidium should be transferred to Parkinsonia, and that P. africana and Cercidium are more closely related to P. aculeata than the East African species (Hawkins, 1996).


Top of page P. aculeata is a shrubby tree, growing to a height of 4-10 m. Lone trees or well spaced trees may be unbranched to 1-1.5 m with a well-developed bole up to 30 cm diameter, but it is common to find low-branched or multi-stemmed individuals. Trunk fissured, black-brown. Smaller branches and shoots green. Branches prominently armed. Leaves bi-pinnate. The petiole and primary rachis reduced, 10-30 mm long, and stoutly spinescent. Secondary rachis, 1-3 pairs congested at the base of the primary rachis, 18-40 cm long, flattened, and bearing 25-60 pairs of tiny, weakly-mucronate obovate-elliptic leaflets which are often deciduous. Paired stipules spinescent. Inflorescences racemose, 4-20 cm long, on short, actively growing axillary shoots. Pedicels 1.5-2 cm long, proximally jointed. Flower petals 5, yellow, clawed banner petal 9-13 mm long, flecked with orange, turning deep orange-brown and folding forwards post-pollination. Calyx lobes obovate-lanceolate, reflexed. Fruits indehiscent, orange-brown glabrous pods, subterete, constricted and flattened between seeds. Seeds 2-8 per pod, 8-11 mm long, dark and light brown or grey mottled.

Plant Type

Top of page Broadleaved
Seed propagated


Top of page Although the majority of authors agree that P. aculeata is native to the New World, there are difficulties in identifying the historical distribution of the species. The literature suggests P. aculeata was well established throughout Mexico, the West Indies and South America by the 1700s, but that the natural or original distribution of P. aculeata in the Americas may have been more restricted than either that or present day distributions. Several authors have noted that the natural distribution of P. aculeata is difficult to ascertain (Isley, 1975; McVaugh, 1987; Woods, 1992). Extensive isolated pure stands of P. aculeata are found throughout southern USA, Mexico and Central America at seasonally flooded former lake bed sites, coastal estuaries or lagoons with deep black vertisols. P. aculeata is rarely found outside these sites, which are often highly disjunct, except as a putatively recent invader of roadsides, railway lines or irrigation channels, or where planted. Hughes (1989) has suggested that these Central American and Mexican sites may represent the true natural distribution of the species.

It appears that the native distribution is larger than stated in the Forestry Compendium (CABI, 2003). PIER (2001) states that it is native to southern USA, the Caribbean, Mexico and northern South America, and Garcia (2000) notes that it is also native to northern Argentina. Starr et al. (2003) state that the native distribution is disputed. It is likely that it should include at least the whole of mainland Central America. Also, descriptions of native vegetation complexes in Peru (Pasiecznik et al., 2001) suggest that it is native to dry coastal areas there, and thus, probably, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Wiggins and Porter (1971) state it is native to the Galapagos, disputed by Starr et al. (2003). The native distribution published here has been taken as that of ILDIS (2003), to include most of Central and South America, the USA and the Bahamas.

Distribution Table

Top 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.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasivePlantedReferenceNotes


CambodiaPresentIntroducedLock and Heald, 1994; PIER, 2001; ILDIS, 2003
IndiaWidespreadIntroducedbefore 1850ILDIS, 2003
-Andhra PradeshPresentIntroduced Planted
-GujaratPresentIntroduced Planted
-HaryanaPresentIntroduced Planted
-KarnatakaPresentIntroduced Planted
-Madhya PradeshPresentIntroduced Planted
-MaharashtraPresentIntroduced Planted
-OdishaPresentIntroduced Planted
-RajasthanPresentIntroduced Planted
-Tamil NaduPresentIntroduced Planted
-Uttar PradeshPresentIntroduced Planted
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-JavaPresentIntroduced Planted
IranPresentIntroducedbefore 1850 Planted Lock and Simpson, 1991
IraqPresentIntroduced Planted Lock and Simpson, 1991
IsraelPresentIntroducedbefore 1932 Planted Post and Dinsmore, 1932
JordanPresentIntroduced Planted
LaosPresentIntroduced Planted Lock and Heald, 1994
LebanonPresentIntroduced Planted
OmanPresentIntroduced Planted Lock and Simpson, 1991
PakistanPresentIntroducedbefore 1850 Planted ILDIS, 2003
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroduced Planted
SingaporePresentIntroduced Planted
Sri LankaPresentIntroduced Planted ILDIS, 2003
SyriaPresentIntroducedbefore 1850Post and Dinsmore, 1932
ThailandPresentIntroducedLock and Heald, 1994; PIER, 2001
VietnamPresentIntroducedLock and Heald, 1994; PIER, 2001
YemenPresentIntroduced Planted Lock and Simpson, 1991


AlgeriaPresentIntroduced Planted
AngolaPresentIntroduced Planted
CameroonPresentIntroduced Planted
Cape VerdePresentIntroducedbefore 1895 Planted ILDIS, 2003
ChadPresentIntroduced Planted
CongoPresentIntroduced Planted
EgyptPresentIntroducedbefore 1932 Planted Post and Dinsmore, 1932
EthiopiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Witt and Luke, 2017
GambiaPresentIntroduced Planted
GhanaPresentIntroduced Planted
KenyaPresentIntroduced Invasive Brenan, 1967; Witt and Luke, 2017
LibyaPresentIntroduced Planted
MadagascarPresentIntroduced Planted ILDIS, 2003
MalawiPresentIntroducedWitt and Luke, 2017Naturalized
MauritaniaPresentIntroduced Planted
MauritiusPresentIntroducedPIER, 2001
MoroccoPresentIntroduced Planted
MozambiquePresentIntroduced Invasive Planted Palgrave, 1977
NigerPresentIntroduced Planted
NigeriaPresentIntroduced Planted Keay et al., 1964
RéunionPresentIntroduced Planted PIER, 2001
SenegalPresentIntroduced Invasive Planted
Sierra LeonePresentIntroduced Planted
SomaliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Madany, 1991; Thulin, 1993
South AfricaPresentIntroduced Invasive Planted Palgrave, 1977
SudanPresentIntroduced Planted
TanzaniaPresentIntroduced Invasive Brenan, 1967; Witt and Luke, 2017
UgandaPresentIntroduced Planted Brenan, 1967
ZimbabwePresentIntroduced Invasive Planted Palgrave, 1977

North America

MexicoPresentNative Invasive Planted, NaturalILDIS, 2003
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaPresentUSDA-ARS, 2002
-ArizonaPresentNative Planted
-CaliforniaPresentNative Invasive Planted
-FloridaPresent Planted
-GeorgiaPresent Planted
-LouisianaPresent Planted
-MississippiPresentUSDA-ARS, 2002
-NevadaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2002
-New MexicoPresentNative Invasive Planted
-South CarolinaPresent Planted
-TexasPresentNative Invasive Planted
-UtahPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2002

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasPresentNativeILDIS, 2003
Costa RicaPresentNativePlanted, NaturalILDIS, 2003
CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012
Dominican RepublicPresent Planted ILDIS, 2003
El SalvadorPresentNative Planted ILDIS, 2003
GuatemalaPresentNativePlanted, NaturalILDIS, 2003
HaitiPresentILDIS, 2003
JamaicaPresentIntroduced Planted ILDIS, 2003
MartiniquePresent Planted
Netherlands AntillesPresent Planted
NicaraguaPresentNativePlanted, Natural
PanamaPresentNativeILDIS, 2003
Puerto RicoPresent Planted USDA-ARS, 2002
Saint Kitts and NevisPresent Planted
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresent Planted
United States Virgin IslandsPresent Planted

South America

ArgentinaPresentNativeGarcia, 2000
BoliviaPresentNative Planted ILDIS, 2003
BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-BahiaPresentNative Planted ILDIS, 2003
-CearaPresentNative Planted
-ParaibaPresentNativeILDIS, 2003
-PernambucoPresentNativeILDIS, 2003
-Sao PauloPresentNative Planted
ColombiaPresentNative Planted ILDIS, 2003
EcuadorPresentNative Planted ILDIS, 2003
-Galapagos IslandsPresentNativeWiggins and Porter, 1971
French GuianaPresentNative Planted
ParaguayPresentNative Planted
PeruPresentNative Planted ILDIS, 2003
SurinamePresentNative Planted ILDIS, 2003
UruguayPresentNative Planted ILDIS, 2003
VenezuelaPresentNative Planted


CyprusPresentIntroducedbefore 1895 Planted
GreecePresentIntroduced Invasive Planted Le, 1984; Le Houerou, 1984
ItalyPresentIntroducedbefore 1850 Invasive Planted Orlando and Grisafi, 1977
SpainPresentIntroducedPasiecznik, 1989; Hyde et al., 1990


AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroduced Invasive Miller and Pickering, 1980; Wilson and Miller, 1987; Woods, 1992
-New South WalesPresentIntroduced Invasive Miller and Pickering, 1980; Wilson and Miller, 1987; Woods, 1992
-QueenslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Miller and Pickering, 1980; Wilson and Miller, 1987; Woods, 1992
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Miller and Pickering, 1980; Wilson and Miller, 1987; Woods, 1992
GuamPresentIntroduced1970sFosberg et al., 1997
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroducedSwarbrick, 1997
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced Planted Swarbrick, 1997

History of Introduction and Spread

Top of page It may be assumed that P. aculeata can now be found in most tropical, sub-tropical and Mediterranean countries. The documentation of introductions and the establishment of naturalized populations of P. aculeata outside of the New World is incomplete. Introduction to Australia was in the mid to late 1800s (Woods, 1992). Extensive weedy populations are now established across the Northern Territories and Western Australia, and there are infestations in Queensland and northern New South Wales (Miller and Pickering, 1980; Wilson and Miller, 1987; Woods 1992). Promotion in Australia as an evergreen hedge (von Mueller, 1888) does not indicate the earliest intercontinental movement of the species. Specimens collected from former Persia and present day Senegal, India, Pakistan and the Mascarenes prior to 1850 are deposited in the Kew herbarium.

The use of P. aculeata throughout arid regions of the British Empire, and later the Commonwealth, as an ornamental, for soil fixation and as a hedging plant was documented by Troup and Joshi (1983) and by Streets (1962). P. aculeata has a widespread distribution in Africa, and is becoming naturalized in many areas. Dale (1953) recommended P. aculeata for forestry usage in Uganda, and Brenan (1967) noted cultivation of P. aculeata in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Neither were aware of naturalization in East Africa, though more recently an extensive naturalized population has been discovered in the vicinity of Nakuru, Kenya. P. aculeata is cultivated for ornament, shade, wind-breaks and hedging and is sometimes naturalized in Somalia (Madany, 1991; Thulin, 1993). Palgrave (1977) noted cultivation of P. aculeata as an ornamental in South Africa, and naturalized populations also in Mozambique along the Limpopo River, between Nelspruit in the Transvaal and Maputo in Mozambique and in the vicinity of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

P. aculeata is planted throughout West Africa (Hutchison and Dalziel, 1928) and is commonly planted in dry zone Nigerian towns and villages (Keay et al., 1964). It has been introduced to the Cape Verde Islands as a forestry species: specimens deposited at Kew were collected from Cape Verde as early as 1895; specimen notes from 1919 indicate the use of P. aculeata as a hedging plant. P. aculeata was not included in the first edition of the Flora of Syria, Palestine and Sinai (Post, 1896); in the second edition Post and Dinsmore (1932) noted widespread cultivation. Lock and Simpson (1991) indicate cultivation in Iran, Iraq, Oman and South Yemen. Le Houérou (1984) considered P. aculeata well adapted to the climate of the Mediterranean zone, indeed, naturalized individuals have been reported from Sicily (Orlando and Grisafi, 1977) and the species appears to be established as a weed in the environs of Athens.

The distribution of P. aculeata in Asia, other than in India, is less extensive, and may represent more recent introductions. Lock and Heald (1994) note that P. aculeata is sometimes cultivated in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Risk of Introduction

Top of page Since spontaneous populations are found wherever the species is introduced, the potential utility at any site must be weighed against the risk of infestation before P. aculeata is chosen for planting. In Australia, P. aculeata has been declared a P2 or a P3 weed under the Rural Lands Protection Act 1985 (DNR, 1998); P2 being that the plant must be destroyed, individual landholders are required to destroy all plants on the land concerned; and P3 being that the number and density of infestations must be significantly and progressively reduced, with individual landholders required to destroy all plants or take other action as approved by the local government in accordance with the act.


Top of page P. aculeata, like many other woody legumes adapted to dry regions, appears particularly invasive on degraded rangelands, although not being nitrogen-fixing, it cannot have a comparative advantage in terms of soil nitrogen. It is tolerant of drought, waterlogging and saline conditions, and is still often selected for planting where foresters seek 'anything that grows' in harsh, degraded or marginal lands, or particular seasonally flooded sites which are not tolerated by other species.

Habitat List

Top of page
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Deserts Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

Top of page P. aculeata is generally a weed of rangelands, only rarely is it considered a problem weed in cultivated land.

Biology and Ecology

Top of page Genetics

Data from tree breeding and provenance trials for P. aculeata are lacking. The conservation status of the species, in terms of interspecific variation, has not been examined. The establishment of extensive weedy populations, ready regeneration from seed or coppice stumps, and abundance in its putative range suggests that the species is not at risk (Stewart et al., 1992). Natural hybrids have been described between P. aculeata and C. praecox (Ruiz and Pavón) Harms., a thorny arid zone species with a disjunct distribution spanning the arid regions of tropical and subtropical North and South America (Carter, 1974; Hawkins, 1996). The hybrids, which are unarmed, have been identified as a potential new agroforestry species (Hughes, 1989), although they may pose a novel and significant threat of weediness. Hybrids are known to often display increased weedy tendencies (Abbott, 1992), so novel hybrids of Parkinsonia should be utilized with particular care or avoided.

Physiology and Phenology

Plants flower in the second or third growth season (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). In Central America peak flowering is from February to March, with sporadic flowering thereafter. Flowering is somewhat later in Mexico and the southern USA, with peak flowering occurring between April and May. In India, flowering is in April and May, with sporadic flowering almost throughout the year (Troup and Joshi, 1983). In Australia, plants usually flower in May or June but, as elsewhere, sporadic flowering can occur throughout the year (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Leaflets may be partially or completely deciduous in the dry season, but the phyllodial secondary rachises are persistent.

Reproductive Biology

Propagation of P. aculeata is generally by seed and seeding is prolific, though pods are indehiscent. Mahmoud and El-Sheikh (1981) noted two types of seed, light seeds which are water permeable and germinate freely, and dark seeds which appear to have a harder seed coat and require pre-treatment. Seedlings germinate over a wide temperature range, varying from continuous exposure to temperatures between 15°C and 35°C to alternating temperature regimes of 20/10°C, 25/15°C and 30/20°C (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Propagation is also reported by (root or shoot) cuttings or air-layering (Singh, 1989).

Environmental Requirements

It is tolerant of a wide range of soil and climate types. It may be assumed that triggers for invasion would include flooding, which would spread seed widely and provide improved conditions for establishment. P. aculeata is extremely hardy and thrives in moist and semi-arid environments, surviving seasonal flooding and a dry season of greater than 8 months duration. A mean annual rainfall between 250 mm and 1000 mm is tolerated, though the species is most valuable in dry areas and may exhibit weedy tendencies where mean annual rainfalls exceed 500 mm (Hocking, 1993; Luna, 1996). Temperatures as high as 48°C and mild frosts are tolerated, although die-back occurs after intense or extended frosts (Hocking, 1993).

Seedlings tolerate a wide range of soil pH, from 3 to 11 (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992) and moderate to excessively saline soils (Webb et al., 1984; Singh, 1989; Luna, 1996). Although many authors suggest that P. aculeata will not tolerate waterlogging (Webb et al., 1984; Singh, 1989; Luna, 1996), P. aculeata is known to favour seasonally flooded sites which other species are less able to tolerate (Miller and Pickering, 1980; Hughes, 1989; Killeen et al., 1993). Although the natural distribution of P. aculeata is arguably limited to seasonally flooded black cotton vertisols (Hughes, 1989), tolerance of soil types is wide. Good growth has been reported from shallow and skeletal soils, gravelly, rocky gullies and hillsides and deeper loamy valley soils (Hocking, 1993). The use of P. aculeata as a soil-binding species for sandy sites has been reported (Abohassan and Rudolph, 1978; Mahmoud and El-Sheikh, 1981; Troup and Joshi, 1983).


P. aculeata is visited by large and small bees. P. aculeata does not fix nitrogen and thus has no association with Rhizobia (Sprent, 1986). It is found in similar vegetation associations through Central America and northern South America, often with Acacia spp. (e.g. A. farnesiana in Central America and the USA), Caesalpinia spp., Capparis spp., Cercidium spp., Leucaena spp. and Prosopis spp. (Pasiecznik et al., 2001).

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

Top of page
Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
38 -34 0 600

Air Temperature

Top of page
Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) 0
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 20 28
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 22 32
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 18 24


Top of page
ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration69number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall2001000mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

Top of page Summer

Soil Tolerances

Top of page

Soil drainage

  • free
  • impeded
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral
  • very acid

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • saline

Natural enemies

Top of page
Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Mimosestes ulkei Herbivore Seeds
Penthobruchus germaini Herbivore Seeds
Rhinacloa callicrates Herbivore Leaves Australia

Notes on Natural Enemies

Top of page No pests and diseases of importance have been noted for P. aculeata. Singh (1989) noted termite damage to seedlings. In India the larvae of Enarmonia malesana bore in pods, and Icerya aegyptiaca and Pseudoaonidia teserata feed on sap (Troup and Joshi, 1983). Woods (1992) made a study of possible biological control agents of P. aculeata, and collected 65 phytophagous insect species from P. aculeata growing in the Sonoran desert region of the southwestern USA and Mexico. P. aculeata is noted as a secondary host of Icerya aegyptiaca, but this species is so polyphagous, widespread, and injurious to commercial crop species it cannot be considered for biological control.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

Top of page Birds are known to spread seed, and although the pods are not particularly palatable, wild mammals and livestock must surely play a part. Oceanic dispersal may be possible, though this is not certain. Effective water dispersal of pods facilitates invasion of seasonally flooded land and of water courses.

The main reason for international spread was intentional introduction as a fodder tree, for hedging, or as an ornamental. However, awareness of its status as a weed now means further introductions are less likely. The attractive characteristics of P. aculeata (performance under difficult or harsh environmental conditions; coppicing ability, pollarding response and resistance to browsing; plentiful production of seed) are those which are also problematic weedy characteristics (Hughes, 1994).

Impact Summary

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Animal/plant collections None
Animal/plant products Negative
Biodiversity (generally) None
Crop production None
Environment (generally) Negative
Fisheries / aquaculture None
Forestry production None
Human health None
Livestock production Negative
Native fauna None
Native flora None
Rare/protected species None
Tourism None
Trade/international relations None
Transport/travel None


Top of page Effects upon livestock grazing are considerable in Australia, though no specific economic data has been forthcoming. Not only does competition affect the production of forage grasses, but access to water sources is restricted by the presence of extensive stands, and the thorns may have negative effects on livestock through damage to hooves and infected sores.

Environmental Impact

Top of page Invasion of watercourse may have a negative impact upon the hydrology of a region.

Impact: Biodiversity

Top of page Reports are not available on invasion of protected areas, though considering the spread of this species, this must have surely occurred. There are no known instances of P. aculeata threatening another species survival, but rather the reverse, that the dense thickets formed may provide a welcome refuge for birds and small mammals from predators or hunters.

Social Impact

Top of page Thorns are considered an occasional hazard.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
Impact outcomes
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Reduced native biodiversity
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult/costly to control


Top of page P. aculeata is a small fast-growing, light-demanding tree most commonly used as a thorny hedge species, as a shade tree or an ornamental. In a hedgerow system, lopping may provide leaf or pods for fodder when other foods are not available. Trees are browse-resistant, and withstand pruning and coppicing well. P. aculeata is widely used as a thorn hedge and as an ornamental, shade or shelterbelt tree (Howes, 1946; Cunliff, 1974; Troup and Joshi, 1983; Webb et al., 1984; Dimmitt, 1987). It is recommended for planting in extreme site conditions (Stewart et al., 1992) and may therefore be of value in the rehabilitation of extremely degraded sites, for example in the reclamation of wastelands, gullied areas and mining spoil (Hocking, 1993). Use as a sand-binding species and for afforesting sandy waste lands has been reported (Abohassan and Rudolph, 1978; Mahmoud and El-Sheikh, 1981; Joshi, 1983). P. aculeata is particularly well suited for afforestation of heavy, poorly-draining soils which are not tolerated by other species. P. aculeata can be a valuable bee plant (Eisikowitch and Masad, 1982). Perez-Arbelaez (1956) noted use as a shade tree for coffee and cocoa, although little shade is given.

Wood is used as firewood and for charcoal and sometimes in paper-making (Thonner, 1915; Standley and Steyermark, 1937; Deshaprabhu, 1966; Hocking, 1993; Burkill, 1995; Luna, 1996). The wood is considered easy to work, but it is brittle and of dubious durability (Stewart et al., 1992). It is also small, but may be used for making tool handles, or light poles and posts (Singh, 1989; Luna, 1996).

Leaves and pods are reported to be used as fodder (Mahmoud and El-Sheikh, 1981; Webb et al., 1984; Stewart et al., 1992). Hocking (1993) noted that leaves and twigs are sometimes fed to goats in India, and Singh (1989) noted use of the leaves for sheep and goat fodder. Trees are not browsed by cattle or horses (Burkill, 1995). In west tropical Africa children eat the flowers and seed (Burkill, 1995), and in Sonora-Chihuahua, Mexico the raw seeds are eaten by the Warihio Indians (Gentry, 1963). In India, the seeds of P. aculeata have been investigated as a minor human food source (Rajaram and Janardhanan, 1991). The use of P. aculeata in native medicine has been described: an infusion of the leaves is considered to have diaphoretic, arbotifacient and antiseptic properties, and to be valuable for fevers, for epilepsy, and to stop vomiting (Perez-Arbelaez, 1956; Burkill, 1995).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed


  • Agroforestry
  • Boundary, barrier or support
  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Revegetation
  • Shade and shelter
  • Soil improvement
  • Windbreak


  • Charcoal
  • Fuelwood


  • Ornamental

Human food and beverage

  • Honey/honey flora


  • Carved material
  • Fibre
  • Wood/timber

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical

Wood Products

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  • Short-fibre pulp


  • Building poles
  • Posts


  • Industrial and domestic woodware
  • Tool handles

Prevention and Control

Top of page Cultural Control

With a sufficient fuel load, fire can kill smaller seedlings, however adult plants will usually survive (DNR, 1998). Singh (1989) noted that waterlogging and browsing animals could negatively affect seedling survival. In Australia, improving pasture conditions is suggested to manage P. aculeata through competition (DNR, 1998).

Mechanical Control

Small seedlings and juveniles can be hand pulled, taking care not to injure oneself on the thorns (Starr et al., 2003). Mechanical removal by bulldozing, pulling with a tractor or grubbing gives effective control, especially where subsequent seedling growth can be controlled (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). In Australia (DNR, 1998), blade ploughing or ripping is found to be effective, though it can only be done in level areas away from watercourses. In addition, follow up work is crucial for total control as disturbance often leads to subsequent seed germination.

Chemical Control

Good control of mature trees is possible with herbicides, with basal bark or cut stump treatments usually giving better results than an overall spray (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Picloram + 2,4-D or triclopyr in diesel oil applied to the basal 75 cm of trunk, completely circling it and thoroughly drenching the bark was effective, as were cut stump treatments, swabbing the whole of the butt with picloram, 2,4-D or triclopyr as basal bark sprays immediately after cutting (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Alternatively, hexazinone can be applied to the soil surface close to the base of the stems and when washed into the soil by subsequent rains slowly kills the shrubs. The severed aerial growth should be burned when dry.

Biological Control

In Australia, three biological organisms have been introduced to try to reduce the invasion of Jerusalem thorn, two seed beetles (Penthobruchus germaini and Mimosestes ulkei) which attack the mature seeds, and one leaf bug (Rhinacloa callicrates) which feeds on the leaves and shoots (DNR, 1998). Although all three insects have established at release sites, Penthobruchus germaini is currently the most effective at establishing and attacking seeds of P. aculeata. The following information on biological control agents introduced to Australia for control of P. aculeata is from DNR (1998).

Penthobruchus germaini is a small brown beetle from Argentina. It was first released in Australia in 1995 and has established more readily than Mimosestes ulkei. It has established and spread rapidly at all release sites in Australia. Up to 95% seed predation has been documented in some of the release sites. This species is documented as a very important tool in the management of P. aculeata in Australia. Female beetles lay up to 350 eggs of the surface of seed pods. Larvae tunnel into seeds soon after hatching. Each larvae spends its developmental period in the same seed which it enters after hatching. There it will eat all of the living contents of the seed preventing germination of that seed before exiting from the end of the seed and seed pod. Life cycle ranges from 5-12 weeks. This species is not reported from Hawaii (Nishida, 1994).

Mimosestes ulkei is a small 2-toned grey beetle from the USA, first released in Australia in 1993. It has established at several release sites in Australia, though not nearly as readily as Penthobruchus germaini. The life cycle and means of attack of this seed beetle is similar to that of P. germaini. Female beetles lay clusters of eggs in cracks and holes in seed pods. The larvae tunnels into seeds after hatching where it spends the rest of its developmental stage eating the living contents, preventing germination of that seed. Larvae pupate then exit through the side of the seed then out of the pod. Life cycle ranges from 5-12 weeks.

Rhinacloa callicrates was introduced into Queensland, Australia; under evaluation (Julien, 1992). It was imported from the USA, first released in Australia in 1989, and has established in Queensland, though it does not have a significant impact on P. aculeata (Starr et al., 2003).


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Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS) source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Distribution Maps

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