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African boxthorn

African Boxthorn flower & fruit

African boxthorn spines

Chinese boxthorn or gotu-kola

Tree violet, coastal form flowers

Tree violet fruit

Gruggly bush among rocks, Monaro

Gruggly bush with lichen

Anchor plant with paired spines

Blackthorn plant

Blackthorn flowers

Blackthorn unripe fruits





African boxthorn (Lycium ferocissimum) is listed as noxious in class 4 in all Southern Tablelands and South East Region LCAs except for Bega Valley and Wingecarribee.


A large intricately branched shrub, with long sharp spines. Leaves are small, bright green, smooth and slightly fleshy. Small white flowers sometimes with purple markings. Fruits are rather tomato-like, but only 1cm in diameter. The first two photos are African boxthorn. The third is the very similar Chinese boxthorn, which has purple flowers. The remainder are native look-alikes, tree violet, anchor plant and blackthorn (see Look-alikes below for differences.)

Preferred habitat

Usually a weed of open pasture in farming areas, African boxthorn mostly grows under trees and fences where its seed is deposited by birds. It can also be invasive in coastal scrub and other types of native vegetation on the coast, even growing on cliffs just above the reach of the surf.


Birds and foxes consume the flashy fruits and spread the seeds.


Chinese boxthorn (Lycium barbarum) is a very similar looking shrub, but it has narrower leaves and purple flowers rather than white with purple spots. It is a garden escape, and less common than African boxthorn. It is not listed as noxious in the region, but should be removed as for African boxthorn.

Three native spiny shrubs may be confused with boxthorn. Tree violet or gruggly bush (Melicytus dentatus, previously Hymenanthera dentata) has sparse toothed leaves and the flowers are tiny yellow bells which hang along the underside of the branches, followed by purple-black or white berries. On the coast this plant is a shrub to about 3 metres high, found in moist sites such as gullies. On the tablelands it is usually less than 1m high, frequently festooned with lichen and often grows among rocks. Its spines are alternate. Anchor plant (Discaria pubescens) grows 0.3-1.5m high and has paired spines about 5cm long and no leaves, except in spring, when it also produces clusters of white flowers at the base of the spines. It is mostly a tablelands species and is generally rare. Blackthorn (Bursaria spinosa) is a widespread shrub to about 5 metres high with small white flowers produced in large clusters at the end of the branches in summer, followed by brown papery seed capsules.


Hand-pull or chip boxthorn seedlings. Cut and paint, basal bark or spray. Seedlings are likely after removal of adult plants, and suckers may arise from the roots and will need follow-up work. Sprayed plants may leaf up again several times before finally dying.