The fight to preserve Australia's natural ecosystem against all manner of invasive flora and fauna is a difficult one, and in many cases dangerous exotic species may be living right under your nose. Gorse (Ulex europaeus), also known as common gorse or furze, is one of these dangers in plain sight -- an unassuming shrub with attractive flowers, it was used extensively in years gone by to provide hardy hedges and fodder for livestock, and can be found in most parts of Australia and New Zealand.
However, the impact of the introduced species on the Australian ecosystem has been dramatic, so much so that gorse is present on the government's official list of Weeds of National Significance. As such, any gorse growing on your land should be effectively and thoroughly removed as soon as possible.
How does gorse damage the environment?
Gorse has a number of properties that, while beneficial to the plant itself, can cause significant harm to native species and crops in its vicinity:
- Competition -- Gorse is a hardy and versatile plant, and its relatively fast growth and efficient root system can rapidly leech nutrients from even very poor soils. This can leave nearby native flora badly undernourished, and thickets of gorse bushes can leave swathes of vegetative destruction over surprisingly large areas.
- Seeds -- Gorse bushes produce enormous amounts of seeds, which led to their introduction as a fodder species for horses and other livestock. Unfortunately this seed production can lead to huge, dense thickets of gorse that become enormously difficult to remove. This problem is exacerbated because the seeds have very long viable lifespans, and seeds left behind in the soil after a gorse clearing can quickly produce new plants.
- Thorns -- Gorse shrubs are covered in densely packed thorns, which can cause tyre punctures if allowed to fall on roads or driveways. The thorns can also cause digestive problems in grazing livestock.
- Toxicity -- While gorse seeds are edible, the branches and fruits of a gorse shrub are toxic, and can cause potentially fatal gastrointestinal problems if eaten by animals or humans in sufficient quantities.
How can gorse shrubs be removed?
While gorse is a tough and tenacious weed, it can be removed from your land with some elbow grease and patience. There are a number of ways you can go about removing gorse shrubs:
- Cutting -- The simplest gorse control method, this simply involves cutting gorse growth down to ground level at regular intervals, killing the gorse by forcing it to regrow until it exhausts itself. This approach may take some years to be fully effective, and you should be careful not to inadvertently spread seeds while you cut (consult bush regeneration experts on setting up a seed isolation zone, and wash down boots and tools before you leave the area). Remove seedlings sprouting from dormant seeds as they appear.
- Herbicides -- Conventional herbicides can quickly kill large thickets of gorse, but must be used with care to avoid contamination of native plants or nearby water sources. Chopping gorse bushes down to ground level and then applying herbicide to the cut stumps is generally safe and effective.
- Grubbing -- Pulling up gorse plants roots-and-all can be difficult due to the painful thorns, and you may require professional assistance. It does, however, help to reduce the amount of dormant seeds left behind in the soil, reducing the chances of regrowth.
- Biological controls -- Certain animal species, such as the gorse spider mite, are natural predators of gorse bushes, and can be released into gorse thickets to damage and weaken them over time. Gorse spider mites are vulnerable to native predators, so they do not pose any risks to the ecosystem -- unfortunately this means having to renew your spider mite army regularly to make up for the losses.
For more information about weed control, contact a professional in your area.