Gorse in New Zealand
Gorse is one of the most widely recognised agricultural weeds in New Zealand. It covers 700,000 hectares (1,700,000 acres) at varying densities — a total of 5% of the land area of New Zealand when excluding existing indigenous forest, vegetated sub-alpine and alpine areas.
Introduced from Western Europe in the very early stages of European settlement, it was recorded by Charles Darwin during his voyage through New Zealand waters in 1835 as growing in hedges in the Bay of Islands. Its spread and development as a weed in New Zealand's temperate climate was rapid, but settlers failed to recognise the threat; gorse seed continued to be imported and plantings deliberately established into the 1900s. The seed can lie dormant on the ground for up to 50 years, germinating quickly after the adults have been removed. Unfortunately, most methods of removing adult gorse plants, such as burning or bulldozing them, create the ideal conditions for the gorse seeds to germinate.
Large spreading infestations over hundreds of hectares resulted, peaking in the late 1940s. Gorse became New Zealand's most costly weed to control and total eradication with current technology seems impossible.
Gorse has been found to form a useful nursery for many species for native bush regeneration. When young, gorse bushes are very dense. As they grow older, they become 'leggy', and provide the ideal conditions for native seeds to germinate and grow. The native seedlings grow up through the gorse, cutting out its light and eventually replacing it. This technique is working successfully and within a short time frame at Hinewai Reserve on Banks Peninsula.
Biological control of gorse has been investigated since the 1920s. Seven different agents have been released in New Zealand. Results have been mixed, but in general neither the seed-feeding nor foliage-feeding insects are doing enough damage to be viable as a stand-alone control agent.
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- Froude, Victoria Ann (2002). "Biological control options for invasive weeds of New Zealand protected areas". Science for Conservation. Wellington, N.Z.: Dept. of Conservation. 199. ISBN 0-478-22266-1.
- Ulex europaeus at the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture