You know a weed is a baddie when it will grow without dirt and entirely surrounded by salt water. The Mother of Dragons inspires GoT fans and baby names but Mother-of-Millions – the stowaway on this attractively decrepit boat moored off Dangar Island in the Hawkesbury – inspires a deep and abiding hatred in bush regenerators, whose job is to try to get rid of weedy garden escapes like this one.
Mother-of-millions – a native of Madagascar – was imported to Australia in the 1950s as a drought tolerant garden plant. It’s now a restricted invasive plant in Queensland, and can’t be given away, sold or released into the environment. Here in coastal NSW and the northwest slopes and plains, it’s a declared noxious weed which means landowners (or in this case boat-owners) have a legal requirement to control it. Like two-thirds of Australia’s noxious weeds, it’s a garden plant that got away.
To add to its charm, mother-of-millions (aka bryophyllum delagoense) is also toxic to humans, pets and livestock. If animals eat enough of it (5 kilos for an adult cow) they quickly die with heart failure. If they just have a snack, they’ll get bloody diahorrea, drool saliva, dribble urine and then die of heart failure. Fortunately cattle are probably safe from this particular crop of bryophyllum. Unless they are bovines with boats, or like a good swim.
You can pull mother-of-millions out by hand but it is, apparently, a soul destroying job. The plant can reproduce from tiny seeds, dispersed both by wind and water – I’ve certainly seen colonies in bushland by Berowra Creek. I hate to think how far and wide the seeds from this estuarine Typhoid Mary have spread. The seeds remain dormant in the soil for ages, so getting rid of mother-of-millions is not a one-time-only job. Like its toxic relative bryophyllum pinnate – the evocatively named resurrection plant – little plantlets growing on the leaves can also detach as you’re weeding. Any tiny fragment of leaf can generate a new infestation. You can spray it with herbicide, leave it in a black plastic bag to die, or hope for a visit from the (also introduced) South African Citrus Thrip which burrows through the leaves’ waxy coating to lay eggs on its flesh. But none of this horticultural horror show works as well as setting it on fire.
We all have a biosecurity duty, of course: “any person… who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable”. And as a responsible gardener and card-carrying greenie, I take those duties seriously. However I’m not sure the owner of this rickety vessel would embrace the idea of a passing kayaker with a molotov cocktail torching his boat, for all its mother of infestations.