Bellyache bush: declared pest

Page last updated: Monday, 20 July 2020 - 2:49pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Bellyache bush, cotton-leaf physic-nut (Jatropha gossypiifolia) is a declared pest in Western Australia (WA). This fact sheet describes the nature of the plant with links to requirements land owners/occupiers must adhere to and pest control methods.

Form: shrub — perennial

Status: present in WA

Bellyache bush is native of tropical Central and South America and Caribbean islands.This species has a widespread but scattered distribution throughout northern Australia. It is most common in the northern parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, but is also present in central and south-eastern Queensland and in other parts of the Northern Territory.  It is a Weed of National Significance (WoNS).


Erect shrub or small tree to four metres high, deciduous in dry conditions.

Stems: Hairy, non-woody.

Leaves: Initially purplish but green when mature, sticky, 5.5–14 centimetres long, 7.5–12.5 centimetres wide, rounded in outline, leaf stalks 4.5–11.5 centimetres long. Leaf margins and leaf stalks with gland-tipped hairs; leaves alternate, margins deeply three to five lobed.

Flowers: Flower head branched. Flowers about one centimetre across. Petals purple with yellow base. Flowers most of year but chiefly late summer and autumn.

Fruit: An oblong lobed capsule to 1.2 centimetres long, capsule, initially green, ripens dark brown. Mostly three or four seeded.

Seeds: Brown seeds to 0.8 ccentimetres long, slightly mottled.

Roots: Fleshy and tuberous.

Agriculture and economic impact

Bellyache bush invades disturbed areas and waterways. The shallow root system and canopy cover of bellyache bush restricts growth of other plants, often outcompeting native vegetation and reducing pasture growth, rendering floodplain pastures unproductive. Dense infestations may occur on river flats and other areas of good loamy soil, reducing biodiversity and interfering with mustering on grazing properties. 

It is also poisonous to livestock. Although unpalatable, accidental ingestion of bellyache bush seeds commonly occurs when livestock browse on dry grass and fallen leaf litter during the dry season. 

Declared pest category

The Western Australian Organism List (WAOL) contains information on the area(s) in which this pest is declared and the control and keeping categories to which it has been assigned in Western Australia (WA). Use the links on this page to reach bellyache bush in WAOL.

Requirements for land owners/occupiers and other persons

Requirements for land owners/occupiers and other persons if this pest is found can be sourced through the declared plant requirements link.

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MyPestGuide™ Reporter
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(Select 'Send report to MyWeedWatcher' from menu)

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080

Control method

Control methods for this declared plant can be found through the bellyache bush control link.

Further details

Further details on this declared plant can be found in the link physic nut and bellyache bush: what you should know.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080
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