Viper’s bugloss and Paterson’s curse

Scientific name: Echium vulgare and E. plantagineum
  • Key characteristics
  • Biology
  • Impacts
  • Control
  • Further information

  • Rosette to upright, rough-leaved annual or biennial to 90 cm tall
  • Purplish-blue flowers appear on an unfurling coiled spike
  • Flowers are funnel shaped and 1.5-3 cm long
  • Rosette leaves are ovate and up to 15 cm long. Paterson’s curse leaves have a 2-5 cm stem

Diagnostic differences

  • Rosette leaves of viper’s bugloss are bristly/hairy while those of Paterson’s curse are smooth
  • Paterson’s curse has many long, flowering spikes branching from the stem while viper’s bugloss has upright stems with only short flower spikes
  • Immature flower spikes of Paterson’s curse are tightly rolled coils while those of viper’s bugloss are more open
  • Both plants have bright red stamens that protrude outside the corolla. However, Paterson’s curse has only two protruding stamens while viper’s bugloss has four.


  • Originated from around the Mediterranean, southwest Europe, and parts of Asia
  • First recorded in New Zealand in the late 19th Century.

Life cycle

  • Annual or biennial rosettes, producing tall flower stems in summer
  • Seeds are very rough, triangular grey to brown nutlets 2.5-4 mm long
  • Both have very deep taproots enabling them to survive very dry conditions.


  • In Australia Paterson’s curse is also known as salvation Jane, as its very long taproot enables it to grow in drought when all other fodder dies. However, it is also a nuisance plant and is normally avoided by grazing stock
  • In Australia, Paterson’s curse is favoured as a honey source by beekeepers
  • Paterson’s curse has occasionally been sold in garden centres in New Zealand.


  • Both species grow especially well in drier, disturbed areas, roadsides and old pastures and cope well with drought conditions in low rainfall areas
  • Viper’s bugloss is most prevalent in the South Island, particularly in the drier southern half. Also is prevalent in the drier east coast of the North Island but is becoming more common in volcanic ash soils of the volcanic plateau and King country
  • Paterson’s curse is only rarely seen in the northern South Island. It occurs throughout the North Island especially north of the volcanic plateau.

Impact on pasture

  • Avoidance by grazing stock reduces pasture utilisation
  • Viper’s bugloss readily invades dry, run-out pastures occasionally forming dense infestations and reducing overall productivity
  • Difficult to control either culturally or with herbicides
  • Paterson’s curse is rarely a problem in well-maintained pastures
  • They may impact perennial fodder crops, especially lucerne.

Impact on stock

  • Unpalatable and sometimes poisonous to livestock
  • Main impact on livestock is due to the reduction of area of useful pasture grasses and legumes.

  • Difficult to control once established.

Prevention and early eradication

  • Be careful not to import hay from farms where the weed is prevalent, and ensure contractors don’t bring it onto your farm from contaminated properties
  • Removing the first few plants that appear on the farm and preventing the production of seed are the best control options.

Grazing management

  • Once established grazing will have little effect as plants are unpalatable to most classes of livestock
  • Goats may possibly browse established plants.


  • Mowing with a rotary slasher may reduce seed set and will allow livestock better access to useful pasture species.

Pasture species/cultivars

  • Establishing robust pastures using ryegrass with novel endophytes, to resist insect damage, can help prevent weed invasion and spread. Endophytes can allow pasture species to be more drought tolerant and resistant to insect attack. This enables sown pasture species to grow more vigorously, making it more difficult for weeds to establish.

Fertiliser application

  • Ensure soil fertility levels are appropriate for good grass growth as this can increase the vigour of sown pasture species and reduce weed establishment.

Chemical control

  • Both weeds are moderately resistant to 2,4-D and MCPA even as young seedlings
  • May be more susceptible to the stronger herbicides dicamba and triclopyr but these should only be used as spot treatments
  • Glyphosate as a spot treatment is effective.

  • Young, S 2018. New Zealand Novachem agrichemical manual. Agrimedia Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand. 912 p.
  • Champion P, James T, Popay I, Ford K 2012. An illustrated guide to common grasses, sedges and rushes of New Zealand. New Zealand Plant Protection Society, Christchurch, New Zealand. 208 p.
  • Auckland Council. Viper’s Bugloss. (accessed 20 September 2019)

There is considerable Australian literature on Paterson’s curse, such as: