The Biology of Australian Weeds – a short history of the series

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R.H. Groves

CSIRO Plant Industry, GPO Box 1600, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia.

F.D. Panetta

University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia.

Cite this article as:

Groves, R.H. and Panetta, F.D. (2014). The Biology of Australian Weeds – a short history of the series. Plant Protection Quarterly 29(4), 127-130.


The series on the Biology of Australian Weeds has been published over the last 35 years and, in this issue, is now at its 63rd number. As editors, we review its history over this period, list the bibliographic details of all weed species covered so far and request further contributions to the series. From an assessment of the contributions to date, based on a categorization of growth form and earlier published reviews, contributions on some of the grass weeds of high national significance to Australian ecosystems are a notable deficiency currently in the series’ coverage.


The proposal for a biological flora of Australian weeds was first advanced at the 5th Australian Weeds Conference held in 1976. The original idea was to model each contribution closely on the already-existing and successful series on the Biology of Canadian Weeds (Cavers and Mulligan 1972) and arose after Professor Jack Alex, University of Guelph, spent a sabbatical year in the mid-1970s at CSIRO Plant Industry working with Richard Groves and Jim Cullen at Canberra. Jack Alex was an enthusiastic advocate of the proposal for a comparable Australian series. After the conference, the proposal was referred to the Australian Weeds Committee for action. Subsequent endorsement of the proposal by that committee was followed by a call for papers (Groves and Amor 1977), of which the first in the series was published in 1979, 35 years ago (Table 1). It is thus timely to present a short history of the series and to seek new contributions about the many important Australian weed species not yet covered.

Each paper aims to bring together all published, and as much unpublished, information as possible on the biology of each weed, or group of closely-related weed species, of significance to Australian agriculture and/or nature conservation. The initial coordinator of the series was Richard Groves at CSIRO Plant Industry, Canberra, who solicited contributions, sent papers out to referees and acted as initial editor for the series. Ron Amor, then at the Victorian Department of Crown Lands and Survey, Frankston, helped edit some early contributions while Richard Groves was on study leave. The current editor is Dane Panetta, now at the University of Melbourne. An up-to-date list of contributions so far published (Table 1) shows that the first 16 numbers in the series were published in The Journal of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science (JAIAS) and subsequent 47 numbers in Plant Protection Quarterly (PPQ). The series is on-going and remains with PPQ.

The decision to re-publish 14 of the initial articles as a book was taken in 1994 (Groves et al. 1995). By then, many of the earlier articles were not easily obtainable following the demise of JAIAS. The articles in book form involved the original authors in most cases updating their earlier articles in light of new knowledge. Occasionally, where the original author(s) were no longer working on a particular weed, successive researchers were asked to contribute to the articles. At the same time, the opportunity was taken to add extra reference material. The Council of Australian Weed Science Societies (CAWSS) helped defray publication costs of the first volume in the hope that the book would be affordable by tertiary students. Two further volumes of contributed articles have been published subsequently (Panetta et al. 1998, Panetta 2009) as the series has grown to comprise more than 60 numbers.


The series 

An examination of the species covered (Table 1) shows that the series has been dominated by reviews on annuals, herbaceous perennials and shrubs (Figure 1). (Note that the total number of species represented in Figure 1 exceeds the number of reviews in the series since some reviews cover more than one species). Overall, shrubs are the predominant growth form. It would be interesting to determine how closely the distribution of growth forms represented in the series corresponds to the distribution of growth forms within Australia’s weed flora as a whole.





In an early survey of Australian weed research by Marcus Blacklow (1976), and at about the time of the commencement of the series, 90 species were found to be candidates of then-current research projects. The species with four or more research projects listed were Lolium rigidum Gaudin (with 9), Chondrilla juncea L. and Pteridium esculentum (G.Forst.) Cockayne (both with 6), Cyperus rotundus L. (5) and Carduus nutans L., Lantana camara L. and Oxalis pes-caprae L. (all with 4) (Table 4 of Blacklow 1976). Despite the then-high priority for research on Lolium rigidum, Pteridium esculentum and Cyperus rotundus, contributions on these species have not been received to date, a significant early omission in the overall coverage of the series.

Many of the species itemized by Blacklow (1976) were regarded as significant weeds of cropping or pasture systems. Over the period of the series on the Biology of Australian Weeds, however, increasing consideration by weed research programs has been given to contributions on so-called environmental weeds, though some species (e.g. Echium plantagineum L. and Hypericum perforatum L.) have come to be regarded more recently as detrimental to both natural and agricultural ecosystems. An early report of research on this more recent category of weed species (Humphries et al. 1991) listed 71 genera or species that were considered to be a “serious threat to native communities” (their Table 3.1). The same authors went on to list 18 species as Australia’s “top environmental weeds” (their Table 6.1) of which seven (Brachiaria mutica (Forssk.) Stapf. (now Urochloa mutica (Forssk.)), Cenchrus ciliaris L. (syn. Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link), Echinochloa polystachya (Kunth) Hitchc., Glyceria maxima (Hartm.) Holmb, Tamarix aphylla (L.) H.Karst., Thunbergia grandiflora Roxb. and the alga Undaria pinnatifida (Harvey) Suringar) have yet to be covered in the series.

The listing by Humphries et al. (1991) includes four grass species of wetlands, of which only Hymenachne amplexicaulis (Rudge) Nees has been contributed recently. Together with three other grasses identified as of high national importance (Cenchrus ciliaris, Pennisetum polystachion (L.) Schult. and Lolium rigidum), these two earlier attempts to rate Australia’s major agricultural and environmental weeds, albeit on different criteria, illustrate a marked lack of coverage of grass weeds in the series. Future assessments of importance may well reveal other grass weeds to be of comparable importance to natural environments, such as Andropogon gayanus Kunth in northern Australia and Phalaris aquatica L. (syn. Phalaris tuberosa L.) in southern regions. The Appendices to Humphries et al. (1991) provide many more future candidate species for the series.

Accounts in preparation (as of December 2014)

Reviews on the following species are currently in preparation:

  • Hyparrhenia hirta (L.) Stapf.;
  • Tradescantia fluminensis Vell.;
  • Orobanche ramosa L. subsp. mutelii (F.W. Scultz) Cout.;
  • Echinochloa spp.; and
  • Physalis spp.


At the time of Blacklow’s analysis in 1976, chemical control of cropping and pasture weeds dominated weed research and conference proceedings, and the biological attributes of these and other weeds were not always well documented. The initiation and continuation of the series on the Biology of Australian Weeds for over 30 years has to some extent rectified this imbalance. A sound biological understanding of more than 60 Australian weeds or weed groups – both agricultural and environmental – has been provided on which to build future research programs. Many of Australia’s weeds have yet to be covered, however. We hope that some of the gaps in present knowledge of Australian weed species will be filled in future contributions to the on-going series.


Ron Amor, then Secretary of the Australian Weeds Committee, assisted in establishing the series; Bob Richardson and Ros Shepherd helped in editing the three Volumes of contributions published so far; our Canadian colleagues Jack Alex and Paul Cavers were always supportive of the concept; finally, many Australian weed scientists refereed contributions and we acknowledge their efforts.


Blacklow, W.M. (1976). An analysis of weeds research in Australia. Journal of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science 42, 176-80.

Cavers, P.B. and Mulligan, G.A. (1972). A new series – the biology of Canadian weeds. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 52, 651-4.

Groves, R.H. and Amor, R.L. (1977). Proposal for a biological flora of Australian weeds.Australian Weeds Research Newsletter 25, 5-11.

Groves, R.H., Shepherd, R.C.H. and Richardson, R.G. (eds) (1995). ‘The Biology of Australian Weeds, Volume 1’. (R.G. and F.J. Richardson, Melbourne). 314 pp.

Humphries, S.E., Groves, R.H. and Mitchell, D.S. (1991). Plant invasions of Australian ecosystems: A status review and management directions. Kowari 2, 1-134.

Panetta, F.D. (ed.) (2009). ‘The Biology of Australian Weeds, Volume 3’. (R.G. and F.J. Richardson, Melbourne). 326 pp.

Panetta, F.D., Groves, R.H. and Shepherd, R.C.H. (eds) (1998). ‘The Biology of Australian Weeds, Volume 2’. (R.G. Richardson and F.J. Richardson, Melbourne). 327 pp.

First published online: December 31, 2014