Solanum mauritianum (tobacco tree)
- 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
- Growth Stages
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Solanum mauritianum Scop.
Preferred Common Name
- tobacco tree
Other Scientific Names
- Solanum auriculatum Ait.
- Solanum carterianum Rock.
- Solanum erianthum D. Don.
- Solanum tabacifolium Vell.
- Solanum verbascifolium var. auriculatum (Ait.) Kuntze
International Common Names
- English: earleaf nightshade; woolly nightshade
- Spanish: ajicon (Cuba); prendedera (Cuba)
- French: tabac marron
- Portuguese: fona-de-porco (Azores); tabaqueira (Azores)
Local Common Names
- Australia: tree tobacco; wild tobacco
- Brazil: capoeira-branca; couvetinga; cuvitinga; fumeira; fumo-bravo
- Cook Islands: rua 'va 'va
- Cuba: tabaco cimarrón
- New Zealand: flannel weed; keosine plant; tobacco weed
- South Africa: bugtree; bugweed; groot bitterappel; luisboom; nbongobonga
- Tonga: pula
- USA/Hawaii: pua nana honua
- SOLER (Solanum erianthum)
- SOLMR (Solanum mauritianum)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Solanales
- Family: Solanaceae
- Genus: Solanum
- Species: Solanum mauritianum
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
DescriptionTop of page
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
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: 10 Feb 2022
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|South Africa||Present, Widespread||Introduced||1862||Invasive|
|Portugal||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Canary Islands||Present||Introduced||First reported: 1990's|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Australia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Lord Howe Island||Present||Introduced||1958|
|Cook Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Original citation: Space & Flynn, 2003|
|Federated States of Micronesia||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|New Zealand||Present, Widespread||Introduced||1883||Invasive|
|Papua New Guinea||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive|
|Tonga||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Established; Original citation: ISSG (IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group) (2013)|
|-Espirito Santo||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive|
|-Mato Grosso do Sul||Present, Localized||Native||Invasive|
|-Minas Gerais||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive|
|-Rio de Janeiro||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive|
|-Rio Grande do Sul||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive|
|-Santa Catarina||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive|
|-Sao Paulo||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
HabitatTop of page
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||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 grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Wetlands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
Growth StagesTop of page
Biology and EcologyTop of page
The chromosome number is n=12 (2n=24) (Symon, 1981). Hybridization with closely related species like S. erianthum and S. granuloso-leprosum has been suspected in South America, although the latter species may turn out to be synonyms of S. mauritianum, as regarded by some botanists (Kissmann and Groth, 1997).
Physiology and Phenology
In both its native and introduced habitats, the plant produces flowers and fruit throughout the year. Seeds appear to require a 3-month period of after-ripening under dry conditions before they will germinate, but seed viability is high, with 98% reported in South Africa (Hinze, 1985). Germination requirements are highly variable, but S. mauritianum seeds require the presence of both light and alternating temperatures for optimum germination (Campbell and Staden, 1983; Campbell, 1990; Campbell et al., 1992; Campbell and Staden, 1994). The seeds do not appear to have an extended period of dormancy, preventing the formation of long-lived soil seed banks (Hinze, 1985). Germination of seeds stored in soil is stimulated by fire. The various factors influencing germination ensures that seedling emergence is sporadic and occurs over a prolonged period (Campbell, 1990). Seedlings that become established in summer are able to flower and fruit by autumn. The plant has a high growth rate and seedlings are able to grow to a height of several metres within 2-3 years. Established plants that are felled will regrow rapidly and can produce flowers within 12 months (Denny, 1999). It is a short lived tree and mature plants begin to die after 15 years.
S. mauritianum propagates primarily via seeds which are dispersed by frugivorous birds, bats and monkeys. Pollination is primarily via insects and plants are able to flower when 1-2 years old, with some 20-80 berries borne on each inflorescence, each berry containing about 150 seeds (Hinze, 1985). The plant produces flowers and bears fruit at regular intervals throughout the year, enabling a single plant to produce excessive numbers of seeds. Plant populations are not typified by long-lived soil seed banks and most seeds in the seed bank are damaged by insects and pathogens (Denny, 1999). However, the excessive numbers of seeds produced annually ensure that there are sufficient seedlings to augment plant populations and promote the weed's spread. The plant also propagates vegetatively when mechanically damaged by cutting or uprooting and pieces of root remaining in the soil will regrow (Hinze, 1985).
Observations in South Africa suggest that S. mauritianum is adapted to a wide range of habitats, climates and environmental conditions (Wells et al., 1986). The plant does not normally persist in arid conditions, but thrives in moist habitats and in high-rainfall areas. In South Africa, the plant tolerates all seasonal rainfall patterns (Wells et al., 1986), with summer rainfall areas the worst affected. Conditions suitable for the plant include coastal and low-altitude subtropical climates, but also high-altitude warm temperate and Mediterranean climates. The plant seems to tolerate most soil types, but thrives in those with high water retention. The plant is also able to tolerate low temperatures and occurs in areas that are subject to light frost. The weed is both frost-tolerant and shade-tolerant to a certain degree. Disturbances in both transformed habitats (e.g. fence lines, forestry plantations) and natural vegetation appear to trigger invasion.
In South Africa, the fruit of S. mauritianum provide winter food for the Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) and Natal fruit fly (Ceratitis rosa), which are pests of several species of deciduous and tropical fruit throughout the country. It is also likely that the plant acts as a host for several diseases of cultivated Solanaceae (e.g. Tobacco mosaic virus).
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)||-5|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||15||22|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||25||32|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||5||12|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||2||4||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
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
The weed does not normally spread via non-biotic means, although the seeds of plants growing along watercourses and riparian zones could be spread by water.
Vector Transmission (biotic)
Fruit are produced in abundance throughout the year and are thus a predictable food source for fruit-eating birds and mammals. The weed propagates primarily by seeds which, in South Africa, are dispersed by frugivorous birds, bats and monkeys that consume the ripe fruit and facilitate long-distance spreading of the weed (Hinze, 1985). Birds have also been reported to consume the fruit in Australia (Van Dyck, 1979) and New Zealand (McGregor, 1999). Also, birds could indirectly disseminate seed over long distances as birds could potentially deposit seed onto agricultural produce intended for transportation to new areas. In situations where pastures and rangelands may be invaded, livestock does not normally consume the fruits and is thus unlikely to disseminate ingested seeds.
There are no recorded instances of the weed being spread by agricultural practices, since it does not normally invade croplands, although seed could be spread by attachment to vehicles' tyres.
There are no records of the weed being spread by means of trade or transport, although the potential for this may well exist.
Deliberate introductions of the plant may well have occurred globally for ornamental purposes, since the plant has attractive mauve/purple flowers and the copious amounts of fruit produced attract birds in residential gardens. Seed is still available from a number of commercial mail order companies (e.g. Malkmus, 2003). However, ornamental usage is prohibited in many countries (e.g. South Africa, New Zealand) where the weed is invasive. Although extracts of the plants could be utilized commercially for the synthesis of corticosteroid drugs, there are no records of deliberate introductions for this purpose.
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|True seeds (inc. grain)||weeds/seeds|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Fruits (inc. pods)|
|Growing medium accompanying plants|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page
Social ImpactTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- 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
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts human health
- Negatively impacts animal health
- Negatively impacts tourism
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Pest and disease transmission
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page
Uses ListTop of page
- Poisonous to mammals
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
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.Cultural Control
Cultural control methods, e.g. burning or oversowing with grass species to provide competition, are not normally used against S. mauritianum. Indeed, in forestry situations, the burning of leaf litter is discouraged as the forest floor mulch has an inhibiting effect on seed germination (Hinze, 1985).
Manual control methods, which are largely aimed at the prevention of fruiting, involve the felling of large trees and slashing of smaller plants, ring-barking of trees and hand-pulling of seedlings (Denny, 1999). Seedlings less than 1 m tall can be hand-pulled in soft, moist soil, but roots that break off will coppice. Also, the grubbing out of large plants with mattocks is often unsuccessful as severed roots will initiate regrowth (Hinze, 1985). Felling and slashing by itself is insufficient as the plants will resprout to form multi-stemmed thickets which are more difficult and more expensive to control. As a result, felling and slashing must be accompanied by herbicidal applications. Ring-barking is effective for controlling small infestations, but is labour-intensive (Little, 1980; McGregor, 1999).
Herbicides are currently the most effective means of controlling S. mauritianum, since the plant is easily killed with herbicides. Application methods include: (i) foliar sprays for seedlings and regrowth that follows felling or slashing, (ii) basal-stem treatments to the lower stems and root crowns of trees, (iii) cut-stump applications following felling or slashing and (iv) soil applications (Denny and Goodall, 1992; Denny, 1999). In South Africa, several chemicals are registered for use against S. mauritianum and include glyphosate, sulfosate, triclopyr and fluroxypyr for foliar applications, triclopyr and fluroxypyr for basal-stem treatments, triclopyr and imazapyr for cut-stump applications and tebuthiuron for soil applications (Denny, 1999; Grobler et al., 2000). Soil applications are not recommended when the plants are close to crops or plantations, while cut-stump applications of imazapyr are not advised in plantations of Eucalyptus species. The most popular methods are basal-stem and cut-stump applications. Herbicides are best applied during the weed's growing season (Hinze, 1985).
Biological control has only been attempted in South Africa, where the sap-sucking lace bug Gargaphia decoris (Tingidae), which was released in 1999, is so far the only agent that has been used (Olckers, 1999, 2000). However, this insect has proved ineffective to date, largely because of its failure to establish at many release sites and its inability to sustain high population densities throughout the year. Permission for the release of a second agent, the flower bud-feeding weevil Anthonomus santacruzi (Curculionidae) that prevents fruiting, is currently being sought in South Africa (Olckers, 2003). Besides South Africa, only New Zealand has considered biological control of S. mauritianum (Withers et al., 2002). This plant has proved to be a difficult target for biological control because of closely related cultivated and native plants in the genus Solanum, which have made it difficult to obtain clearance for the release of biological control agents.
Integrated control is currently confined to the use of herbicides in conjunction with mechanical clearing. However, it is believed that biological control has an important role to play, notably in reducing the weed's excessive seed production and recruitment of seedlings and thereby rendering conventional follow-up operations more sustainable. In South Africa, follow-up operations are essential and work needs to be continued for at least 3 years once initiated at a particular site. In particular, operations involve three stages which include (i) killing standing trees to prevent further seed production, (ii) removing seedlings that regenerate from the seed-bank and (iii) encouraging native plants to smother the seedlings (Denny, 1999). It is important that seedlings be controlled annually, preferably at the end of summer.
ReferencesTop of page
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Oviedo Prieto R, Herrera Oliver P, Caluff M G, et al, 2012. National list of invasive and potentially invasive plants in the Republic of Cuba - 2011. (Lista nacional de especies de plantas invasoras y potencialmente invasoras en la República de Cuba - 2011). Bissea: Boletín sobre Conservación de Plantas del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba. 6 (Special Issue No. 1), 22-96.
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Space JC, Flynn T, 2001. Report to the Kingdom of Tonga on invasive plant species of environmental concern., Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, USDA Forest Service.
Space JC, Waterhouse B, Denslow JS, Nelson D, Mazawa TR, 2000. Invasive plant species in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia., Honolulu, Hawai'i, USA: USDA Forest Service, Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry.
Swarbrick JT, 1997. Weeds of the Pacific Islands., 209 Noumea, New Caledonia, South Pacific Commission.
Van Dyck S, 1979. Destruction of wild tobacco trees (Solanum mauritianum Scopoli) by mountain possums (Trichosurus caninus Ogilby). [Memoirs of the Queensland Museum], 19 367-371.
Withers T M, Olckers T, Fowler S V, 2002. The risk to Solanum spp. in New Zealand from Gargaphia decoris (Hem.: Tingidae), a potential biocontrol agent against woolly nightshade, S. mauritianum. In: New Zealand Plant Protection Volume 55, 2002. Proceedings of a conference, Centra Hotel, Rotorua, New Zealand, 13-15 August 2002. [ed. by Zydenbos S M]. Rotorua, New Zealand: New Zealand Plant Protection Society. 90-94.
Witt A, Beale T, Wilgen B W van, 2018. An assessment of the distribution and potential ecological impacts of invasive alien plant species in eastern Africa. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa. 73 (3), 217-236. DOI:10.1080/0035919X.2018.1529003
Witt A, Luke Q, 2017. Guide to the naturalized and invasive plants of Eastern Africa. [ed. by Witt A, Luke Q]. Wallingford, UK: CABI. vi + 601 pp. http://www.cabi.org/cabebooks/ebook/20173158959 DOI:10.1079/9781786392145.0000
Distribution MapsTop of page
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CABI Summary Records
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