Bellyache Bush

​(Jatropha gossypiifolia)

​​Legal status of bellyache bush in Tasmania

  • Bellyache bush is a declared weed under the Tasmanian Weed Management Act 1999. The importation, sale and distribution of bellyache bush are prohibited in Tasmania.

  • Bellyache bush is also a Weed of National Significance (WONS).

  • The legal responsibilities of landholders and other stakeholders in dealing with bellyache bush are laid out in the Statutory Weed Management Plan for Bellyache Bush.

  • Bellyache bush does not occur in Tasmania.​

Bellyache bush plant, flowers and fruit. © Q'ld Gov't.

What does bellyache bush look like?


Bellyache bush, mature plant with flowers, © Q'ld Gov't.

Bellyache bush is an upright, multi-stemmed perennial shrub with a shallow root system. The branches, stems and leaves are covered with tiny, sticky hairs. The thick stems exude a sticky sap when damaged.

Individual plants have a life span of more than 10 years and can grow up to four metres high, although most plants average between two and three metres high.

It is deciduous in winter with new leaves generally produced with the onset of the wet season.



Impacts of bellyache bush

​​​Bellyache bush young plant, © Q'ld Gov't.

Bellyache bush thrives in disturbed and overgrazed areas. Most parts of the plant are highly toxic to both animals and humans, with significant stock losses attributed to this weed, particularly during drought when it may be the dominant vegetation in an area.

Bellyache bush forms dense thickets, particularly in riparian areas, out competing pasture grasses and native vegetation. Spreading via seed and vegetative plant fragments, it can rapidly take over productive grazing land and reduce biodiversity due to its short age to reproductive maturity, (it is capable of producing seed from as young as 10 weeks), its ability to produce prolific quantities of seed, (one adult plant can produce up to 12,000 seeds per year), and its efficient dispersal mechanisms at both local and regional levels.

Prevention of local spread is difficult as seeds are exploded from the ripe capsules and spread up to 13 metres, resulting in rapidly expanding large infestations. The most significant vectors of long distance dispersal are water and man, the latter through the ornamental plant trade, and contaminated soil and machinery.

Management of bellyache bush is difficult and must be maintained for the long term to be effective. Once established control costs are high and ongoing, with some seed remaining in the soil for up to 7 years.

W​here does bellyache bush occur?

  • Bellyache bush is a widespread native of tropical central and South America and the Caribbean islands. It has been introduced as an ornamental and medicinal plant in many tropical countries across Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Australia.
    Bellyache bush was first introduced into northern Australia in the late 1800s as a hardy garden ornamental, capable of growing well in poor soil and with little water. By the 1920s it had escaped and naturalised, probably due to dumping of plants and cuttings as well as flood born seeds and fragments. It now infests substantial areas of the northern rangelands of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
  • Modelling indicates bellyache bush is a low climate match for Tasmania.
  • For further information or help in identifying bellyache bush, refer to the Commonwealth of Australia website, Weeds of National Significance - Bellyache bush. If you are still in doubt about the weed you are dealing with, contact Biosecurity Tasmania on 03 6165 3777 for help.

What you need to do

  • If you locate bellyache bush anywhere in Tasmania, or if you find a plant that you think could be bellyache bush, immediately contact Biosecurity Tasmania on 03 6165 3777 to report this weed.

See also
Statutory Management Plan for Bellyache Bush
Weed Links and Resources
Weeds of National Significance - Bellyache bush

Other useful links
Pest Genie

Important Disclaimer
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