TOXIC: Pest plant, Miconia has been found on a Nimbin property. Photo Contributed
TOXIC: Pest plant, Miconia has been found on a Nimbin property. Photo Contributed Contributed

Highly toxic weed found for the first time in five years

A HIGHLY invasive and destructive weed capable of "causing widespread damage" has been found on a Nimbin property by Rous County Council.

The council's weed biosecurity and bush regeneration manager, Phil Courtney, found the weed, known as miconia, at the property earlier this month.

It is the first new miconia plant discovery in five years in Australia.

Miconia, also known as velvet tree, is classed as a high risk prohibited weed and is part of a national eradication programme.

Mr Courtney stressed the significance of the discovery as part of the council's ongoing efforts to combat the spread of targeted weeds.

"Miconia is an unusually aggressive invader and can cause widespread damage. It forms dense thickets in rainforest and may completely replace native vegetation," he said.

"This week's discovery has protected the area from potentially irreversible damage, and it is a timely reminder of the general community's legal duty to inform the council of its presence.

"We encourage the community to contact us if they believe they may have seen a miconia plant.

"We'd rather investigate calls from an interested community that result in false alarms, than none at all."

Biosecurity officers have been regularly inspecting a 500m radius surrounding previously treated mature trees and continue to find seedlings germinated from these parent plants, in some cases, many years after their removal.

The site in Nimbin will now be added to the list requiring regular monitoring.

Growing up to 15m tall, miconia tree leaves are green on top with a deep purple underside, making them attractive to plant collectors.

The miconia plant was first widely publicised following its discovery in a nursery and in backyards around the North Coast in 2003.

Introduced to a botanical garden in Tahiti in 1937, miconia now overruns 70 per cent of the island and endangers half of Tahiti's endemic flora.

The plant has a similar history in Hawaii and is locally described as the 'purple plague'.

Miconia calvescens leaves have a deep purple underside and can grow up to 70cm long.

All Miconia varieties are prohibited matter under the NSW Biosecurity Act 2015. While M. calvescens is the most common, other varieties could be in Northern NSW and remain undetected.

Two of these, M. racemosa and M. nervosa, have been found in Queensland and are currently under control.

Where the calvescens is a small tree of up to 15m, the other Miconia species are scrambling shrubs around 3m. These are: M. nervosa leaves are distinguishable by their pink veins and can grow up to 25cm long. The underside of this leaf is a light red.

Rous County Council needs your help to locate Miconia plants on the North Coast. If you have seen, or suspect you have seen a Miconia plant, call Rous County Council on (02) 6623 3800 for identification.

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