- 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
- Biology and Ecology
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Sisymbrium irio L.
Other Scientific Names
- Norta irio (L.) Britton
Local Common Names
- English: desert mustard; rocket mustard
- Spanish: ireos; matacandil; oruga leonina; rabanillo amarillo
- Denmark: Esdragon
- Sweden: Ampelskara; Dragon; vallsenap
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
S. irio is an annual or winter-annual, herbaceous, stiffly erect, tap-rooted plant. It first came to prominence as an invasive species, and gained its common name ‘London rocket’ when it became abundant after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The well-known yellow flowered weed is native to southern Europe, North Africa and temperate Asia but has been carried by migrants to North America, Australasia and South Africa. In North America, S. irio is naturalised in south-western States and in Mexico, where it is often abundant, like elsewhere, in abandoned fields and other neglected areas, as well as in pastures, livestock watering sites, and open deserts. In Australia, it is described as a widespread weed of crops, pastures, roadsides, parks, gardens, lawns, footpaths, disturbed sites and waste areas. It is classed as invasive in Hawaii (PIER, 2014).
The plants produce a large number of seeds which can be introduced to countries accidentally as a contaminant in crop seed or deliberately by migrants.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Capparidales
- Family: Brassicaceae
- Genus: Sisymbrium
- Species: Sisymbrium irio
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Sisymbrium irio is one of about 90 species of the genus whose members are found across Eurasia, the Mediterranean, southern Africa, North America and the Andes (Mabberley, 1997). The most common invasive species of the genus are S. irio itself, S. altissimum, S. officinale and S. orientale, all of which have been introduced to and become naturalised in many countries.
It first came to prominence as an invasive species, and gained its common name ‘London rocket’ when it became abundant after the Great Fire of London in 1666 (Clapham et al., 1952)
DescriptionTop of page
The following description is adapted from Flora of North America (2013).
Annual or biennial; glabrous or sparsely pubescent. Stems erect, branched proximally and distally, (1-)2-6(-7.5) dm, glabrous or sparsely pubescent at least basally. Basal leaves not rosulate; petiole (0.5-)1-4.5(-6) cm; blade oblanceolate or oblong (in outline), (1.5-)3-12 (-15) cm × (5-)10-60(-90) mm, margins runcinate to pinnatisect; lobes (1-)2-6(-8) on each side, oblong or lanceolate, smaller than terminal lobe, margins entire, dentate, or lobed. Cauline leaves similar to basal; distal-most blade smaller, to 2 cm wide, margins entire or 1-3-lobed. Fruiting pedicels divaricate or ascending, slender, much narrower than fruit, (5-)7-12(-20) mm. Flowers: sepals erect, oblong, 2-2.5 × 1-1.5 mm; petals oblong-oblanceolate, 2.5-3.5(-4) × 1-1.5 mm, claw 1-1.5 mm; filaments 2.5-4 mm; anthers ovate, 0.5-0.9 mm. Fruits (divaricate to ascending, young fruits overtopping flowers), narrowly linear, straight or slightly curved inward, slightly torulose, slender, (2.5-)3-4(-5) cm × 0.9-1.1 mm; valves glabrous; ovules 40-90 per ovary; style 0.2-0.5 mm; stigma prominently 2-lobed. Seeds 0.8-1 × 0.5-0.6 mm.
Maximum height of the plant can range from 50-80 cm or taller.
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
S. irio is native to southern Europe, North Africa and temperate Asia but has been carried by migrants to North America, Australasia and South Africa, where it has naturalised and become a well-known, yellow-flowered weed of waste and neglected areas. Its transport to the far corners of the globe has either been by accidental movement of seeds (sometimes as a contaminant of crop seeds, agricultural produce, etc.) or by deliberate transport of seeds since the plant has been used for herbal medicines and food.
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||Reference||Notes|
|South Africa||Present||Native||Eastern Cape|
|-Jammu and Kashmir||Present||Native|
|United Arab Emirates||Present||Native|
|Belgium||Present, Few occurrences||Introduced||Rare but increasing|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Present||Native|
|Denmark||Present, Few occurrences||Introduced||First record 1870|
|Sweden||Present, Few occurrences||Introduced||First record pre-1732|
|Mexico||Present||Introduced||Se Conoce de Baja California Norte, California Sur, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Distrito Federal, Durango, Hidalgo, Estado de Mexico, Queretaro, Sinaloa, Sonora, Veracruz|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Hawaii||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Invasive on Hawaii Island|
|-New South Wales||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Northern Territory||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Southern parts|
|-Queensland||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Southern and central|
|-South Australia||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|-Victoria||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Western and central|
|-Western Australia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Southern and western parts|
|New Zealand||Present, Few occurrences||Introduced||Aukland, but record unsubstantiated|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
S. irio seems to have appeared in both North America and Australia in the early 1900s, but how it reached either place remains unknown (Robbins, 1940; Wilken and Hannah 1998; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2013). Possible pathways include its deliberate introduction as a herb, or accidental introduction as a contaminant of crop seed.
IntroductionsTop of page
|Introduced to||Introduced from||Year||Reason||Introduced by||Established in wild through||References||Notes|
|Natural reproduction||Continuous restocking|
|Australia||1909||Yes||CHAH (2014); Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (2013)||New South Wales|
|USA||Early 1900s||Yes||Robbins (1940); Wilken and Hannah (1998)||Los Angeles, California|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
The risk of introduction to the few countries where S. irio is neither native nor naturalised is quite high, either as seed deliberately taken there by migrants or accidentally as a contaminant in crop seed. Modern phytosanitary precautions ought to prevent such occurrences but regulations are not strongly enforced in all countries.
HabitatTop of page
In its native environment S. irio can be found in abandoned fields, waste places, roadsides and orchards. According to Wilken and Hannah (1998), it can be found in much the same disturbed habitats where it has become naturalised. In North America, for example, where it is found in western States and Mexico, it occurs in abandoned fields, waste places, vacant lots, off-highway vehicle staging areas, orchards, pastures, livestock watering sites, roadsides and open deserts (Parker 1972, Rollins, 1993; Wilken and Hannah, 1998; DeFalco and Brooks, 1999; Guertin, 2003). It tends to grow best where its seeds can germinate undisturbed by shade or vegetation and where plants can grow with limited competition.
In Australia, where it is widely naturalised in southern, central and eastern Australia, it inhabits pastures, roadsides, parks, gardens, lawns, footpaths, disturbed sites and waste areas and is also a widespread weed of crops (Weeds of Australia, 2013).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Deserts||Present, no further details|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
Marshall et al. (2000) report that invasion by S. irio competes with or displaces native annual plant species (in North America and possibly elsewhere).
Biology and EcologyTop of page
2n = 14, 28, 42, 56 (Khooshoo, 1955; Guertin, 2003), although Flora of North America (2013) states 2n=14. Khooshoo (1955) reported from India that: ‘S. irio Linn. is a polytypic winter annual which grows throughout the Panjab plains. It occurs in diploid, triploid, tetraploid, hexaploid and octoploid races. All these races can be considerably modified in response to varying amounts of moisture and sunlight.’
The tap-rooted herbaceous plant reproduces entirely by seed. Wilken and Hannah (1998) suggest that S. irio, like other colonising mustards, is self-compatible and self-pollinated, as suggested by its small flowers. It has been estimated that a large plant can produce 9500 seeds or more (Guertin, 2003). Seeds are dispersed when the fruit splits, dropping the seeds to the ground beneath the parent plant.
Physiology and Phenology
In Australia, the seed germinates from autumn to winter and the plant grows without forming a rosette, branching freely from the base to form a bushy appearance. The flowers appear from the tops of the stems in late winter to early spring. As the fruits mature the stem elongates and new flowers are added to the cluster at the top (Herbiguide, 2013).
In California, Guertin (2003) reports that the seeds of S. irio germinate from October to March (autumn through to spring) and the plants mature from April to May. In contrast in Arizona, plants flower from December to May but in moist cultivated fields they can flower all summer (Parker, 1972; Guertin, 2003): usually plants disappear as temperatures rise.
In Pakistan, this species is known to flower between March and May (Flora of Pakistan, 2013).
Ray et al. (2005) studied the factors affecting the emergence of S. irio, one of the very few studies on its germination. They determined that 100 seeds weighed 8.5 mg ± 0.05 SE. Germination was tested at 5 oC, 15 oC and 25oC and found to be best at 15oC, although some seeds germinated at the other temperatures. When seeds were buried at different depths in the soil, emergence was greatest (almost 50%) for seed buried at 2 mm, followed by depths of 1 mm and 3 mm. The same authors tested the interactions between temperature and soil moisture requirements for germination and found that seeds emerged between temperatures of 5oC and 30oC but that maximum emergence was predicted to take place at soil moisture tensions of – 0.01 to 11.2MPa and between 15oC and 20oC. The authors suggested that their data could be useful in developing models of S. irio emergence and thus a predictive model of beet curly top virus occurrences; since the sporadic nature of the outbreaks of the virus in New Mexico may be related to the timing of S. irio emergence.
Although relatively little information seems to be available on the germination of S. irio, more is known about the germination of the closely related S. officinale, and this may give a guide to that of S. irio. In S. officinale both light and nitrate are needed for germination, with the nitrate supplied exogenously or present endogenously in the seed (Hilhorst and Karssen, 1988). Bouwmeester and Karssen (1993) found that buried seeds of S. officinale showed seasonal changes in dormancy, with dormancy being reduced in periods of low temperature and induced in periods of high temperature, with temperature apparently the only factor influencing these changes. However, light, nitrate or desiccation all stimulated germination of exhumed seeds. The roles of light and nitrate in the germination and dormancy of S. officinale seeds was also examined by Hillhorst (1990a; 1990b).
The plant itself is an annual or winter annual without any means of vegetative reproduction. The seeds seem to be able to survive in low numbers in the seed bank. Gomaa (2012) found vegetative plants growing on reclaimed land in the Eastern Desert of Egypt and also recovered 7.3 seeds m-2 from the top 5 cm of the soil. DiTomaso et al. (2013), report that the seeds can survive for up to about 10 years in the soil.
Like most plants inhabiting waste spaces, cultivated land, pastures and roadsides, S. irio is found growing in association with many other species. Such associations vary widely between countries and also between individual habitats.
S. irio seems to be capable of growing under a wide range of conditions, provided that its seeds can germinate in full sun and without the hindrance of overlying vegetation.
ClimateTop of page
|Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers|
|Ds - Continental climate with dry summer||Preferred||Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Ray et al. (2005) reported that S. irio can be a primary overwintering host of the beet leafhopper (Circulifer tenellus) and of the beet curly top virus in southern New Mexico.
S. irio is capable of sustaining populations of the tarnished plant bug Lygus lineolaris, an increasingly important cotton pest, especially during the late season overwintering period of the pest (Esquivel and Mowery, 2007).
DiTomaso et al. (2013) noted that like other mustards S. irio can harbour (and be affected by) diseases and pests that attack related species in the same Brassicaceae family.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
At maturity, Guertin (2003) reports that the stem of S. irio can break off at ground level causing the plant to be blown by the wind, scattering its seeds. However, DiTomaso et al. (2013) imply that this only occurs with the related species S. altissimum (commonly called ‘tumbleweed’) and not with S. irio.
Drezner et al. (2001) reported that S. irio is dispersed primarily by birds and mammals.
Seeds of S. irio may be transported as a contaminant of crop seeds, wool or grain. For example, in Belgium the species is rare but increasing and has been found as a ‘wool alien’ (a contaminant of wool imported for processing), a ‘grain alien’ (contaminating imported grain) and also as a weed in containers with olive trees from southern Europe (Hoste and Verloove, 2009; Manual of the Alien Plants of Belgium, 2013). The species is also mentioned as a wool alien in Britain (Salisbury, 1964).
Modern phytosanitary precautions ought to reduce these sources of imported seeds, but are unlikely to prevent them altogether.
Deliberate carriage of seeds or plant material across international land borders is a possibility as parts of the plants may be used for food or as medicinal herbs.
Pathway CausesTop of page
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
Economic ImpactTop of page
S. irio appears to be mostly a weed of disturbed, open habitats and there it is one of a raft of weedy species occurring along roadsides, in parks and gardens, and in waste places. However, it does occur as a pasture weed in Australia, and at least one report implicates it in the poisoning of cattle there (McKenzie et al., 2009). In light of that, Al-Mujalli et al. (2013) investigated the effects of the species on goats in areas of Saudi Arabia where this species grows, and where camels, sheep and goats are raised. They concluded that feeding on S. irio could result in ‘some derangement in blood cells and biochemical constituents’ and the authors detected slight disturbances in the physical activities of the goats, but considered that further tests were needed to investigate the effects.
Ray et al. (2005) expressed concerns that S. irio may be a primary overwintering host of the beet leafhopper (Circulifer tenellus) in southern New Mexico, as well as of the beet curly top virus which the leafhopper transmits to Chile pepper (Capsicum annuum) crops. It can also host the tarnished plant bug (Lygus lineolaris), a cotton pest, in cotton-growing areas of the southern United States.
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact on Habitats
Cal-IPC (2013) suggests that S. irio may impact on fire regimes in North America by increasing fuel loads, but adds that this is only likely to occur where alien grass species have already altered the fire regime so its additional contribution will be only slight. S. irio plants produce large amounts of biomass early in the season and so may usurp soil water before native North American species reach peak development (Cal-IPC, 2013).
Impact on Biodiversity
DiTomaso et al. (2013) noted that S. irio can replace native annuals in wildland settings in California.
Cal-IPC (2013) considers it possible that the desert tortoise (Gopherus agasizii), native to the Mojave desert and Sonoran desert of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico and the Sinaloan thornscrub of northwestern Mexico, may suffer negative physiological effects from consuming S. irio, but this is at present only conjecture.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
UsesTop of page
Al-Qudah and Abu Zarga (2010) examined the chemical constituents of S. irio growing in Jordan and found it to be a rich source of flavonoids and glucosinates, but whether any of these have any commercial value is yet to be tested.
According to Bailey and Danin (1981) the stems, leaves and flowers of S. irio are used as food by the Bedouin in Sinai and the Negev, and the leaves (presumably) are used as a tobacco substitute. Chopra et al. (1956) found that the seeds are expectorant, restorative and a stimulant. They are used for the treatment of asthma, and can be used as a stimulating poultice. An infusion of the leaves is used in treating affections of the throat and chest.
Uses ListTop of page
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
S. irio is similar to other species of Sisymbrium such as S. officinale and S. orientale, but both species differ from S. irio in having the fruiting pedicels (the stalk below each individual fruit capsule) about the same width as the fruit capsule and a denser pubescence on the stems and leaves (Wilken and Hannah, 1998). S. officinale has short, appressed fruiting pedicels and beaked fruits that are 8-20 mm long, whilst S. orientale has a basal rosette of leaves, pubescent ovaries and young fruits and mature fruits that are 35-100 mm long.
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.
Herbiguide (2013) recommends removing isolated plants (presumably before they set seed and thus multiply). DiTomaso et al. (2013) say that hand pulling is a viable control method if the population is small and isolated, but is time-consuming and is not recommended for large or widespread infestations. Cultivation is effective provided it is done before seed production. Apparently solarisation can be effective in areas with hot summers.
DiTomaso et al. (2013) say that no microbial pathogens or insect biocontrol agents are available for the control of S. irio.
Herbiguide (2013) recommends the use of diflufenican for controlling S. irio, and this can be used selectively in lupins, clovers and some other crops. Glyphosate gives effective control and can to some extent reduce seed production but also kills all other vegetation it touches.
DiTomaso et al. (2013) suggest a range of herbicides for control of S. irio, some of which are selective to grasses whilst others will kill all green vegetation. Herbicides that can be used include 2,4-D, aminocyclopyrachlor + chlorsufuron, aminopyralid + metsulfuron, dicamba, glyphosate, chlorsulfuron, metsulfuron-mehtyl, sulfometuron, imazapic, imazapyr, propoxycarbazone-sodium, rimsulfuron, sulfosulfuron, and hexazinone. As with the use of any weed-killer, it is important to read the package carefully before starting any weed control operation as some require special precautions to be taken.
Control by Utilization
Grazing is an effective control method if it is early enough to prevent seed production. DiTomaso et al. (2013) recommend using sheep rather than cattle because sheep graze closer to the ground. They also point out that meat and milk can be tainted if cattle graze large quantities of mustard-type plants.
Gaps in Knowledge/Research NeedsTop of page
Little published information surrounds seed germination, seed longevity and growth rates of the seedlings or the plants. Further studies on its impacts on crops or associated species are also needed.
ReferencesTop of page
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17/11/2013 Original text by:
Ian Popay, consultant, New Zealand, with the support of Landcare Research
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