Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

It was no accident: deliberate plant introductions by Australian government agencies during the 20th century

Garry D. Cook A B and Lesley Dias A
+ Author Affliations
- Author Affliations

A CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre, PMB 44 Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Botany 54(7) 601-625
Submitted: 13 September 2005  Accepted: 27 April 2006   Published: 19 October 2006


The weedy potential of deliberately introduced plants has been a growing concern in Australia since the late 1980s. Although introduced plants are critical to Australia’s agricultural and livestock production, many species that were praised in the past are now declared agricultural and environmental weeds. Nevertheless, weeds researchers appear largely ignorant of the magnitude and intent of plant introductions for agricultural purposes as well as the legacy of unwanted plants. Across more than 70 years, Commonwealth Plant Introductions comprised 145 000 accessions of more than 8200 species. These species include more than 2200 grass (Poaceae) and 2200 legume species (Fabaceae sensu stricto), representing about twice the indigenous flora in those families and about 22 and 18%, respectively, of the global flora of grasses and legumes. For most of the 20th century, these and other introductions supported research into continental-scale transformation of Australian landscapes to support greatly increased pastoral productivity in order to achieve policy goals of maximum density of human population. This paper documents some of the scientific developments and debates that affected the plant-introduction program. We argue that recent developments in weed science and policy need to be informed by a better understanding of plant-introduction history.


We thank Dick Williams, Bev Sithole, Reiks van Klinkin, Alan Andersen, John Woinarski, Tony Grice, Andrew Ash, Leigh Hunt, Bruce Pengelly and Bruce Cook for their helpful comments on the draft manuscript. We thank Margie Burk and Gary Orr for help in accessing and interpreting the raw data on plant introductions. We are grateful for the assistance and support of Barbara Smith, Dianne Johnson, Helen Cook and the staff of CSIRO’s Black Mountain library.


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