Monday, 13 April 2009

What Patterson’s Curse Tells Us About the Soil

We have 4 paddocks on Ochre Arch were Patterson’s Curse (Echium plantagineum) was prevalent during the spring toward the end of 2008. My previous research had suggested that it was a symptom of compacted bare soils that were deficient in copper. On this last point I’d heard that the plant actually attracted copper and by so doing is helping the landholders by addressing a soil deficiency. It was this feature that tended to cause copper poisoning in horses – especially where set stocking and low biodiversity is evident i.e. the horses have nothing else to eat. Another story I heard once was that the name Salvation Jane was derived in South Australia as the plant in some parts was at one point pretty much the only green plant that survived at different times of the year and kept stock alive.

In the latest edition of the Farming Secrets Digest Volume # 2 (See under the heading ‘Weed of the Month: Paterson’s Curse or Salvation Jane’ Hugo and Helen Disler have included the following explanation which they’ve granted me permission to publish on Ochre Archives.

“Paterson’s Curse or Echium plantagineum is an introduced herb native to the Mediterranean region. The seed heads are up to 3 cm long. It flowers mainly late winter to early summer. Dispersal: Spread by seed. Long distance spread often via fodder.

Why does it grow?
Paterson’s Curse grows in compacted, acid soils with low levels of lime. It has a deep tap root which brings up copper and makes it drought tolerant.

Is it dangerous to stock?
It is if overgrazing occurs and stock consume excessive amounts of it. The following problems may arise: Liver damage, Reduced Weight, Gain, Reduced Wool, Clip Death in severe cases.

Solve the problem!
Provide supplementary dolomite as a stock-lick in conditions where stock has to graze. Seaweed is also recommended. Don’t overgraze so good ground coverage remains. Chip out rosettes and leave on the ground as a message to the soil. Get the soil biologically active so that other plants grow to replace the Paterson’s Curse.”

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