Weeds in Australia


Tamarix aphylla


Athel Pine is a tall tree growing up to 15 m tall. Older bark on the trees is dark grey or greyish brown, rough and deeply furrowed, while younger stems are smooth, jointed and have a bluish-green or greyish-green appearance. Leaves are reduced to tiny scales, 1-2 mm long and are alternately arranged along the fine branchlets (which are often mistaken for cylindrical leaves). Flowers are small with petals about 2 mm long, stalkless, pale-pink or whitish, and borne in elongated clusters, 3-6 cm long near the tips of the branches. Athel Pine fruits are bell shaped, 2-3 mm long and contain numerous seeds that are topped with a tuft of tiny hairs (Fuller 1998; CRC 2003).

For further information and assistance with identification of Athel Pine contact the herbarium in your state or territory.


The species is widely distributed in the inland areas of Australia. It has naturalised in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. It has also been recorded in Victoria (Navie 2004). The worst infestations of Athel Pine occur along the lower 200km of the Finke River in central Australia (CRC 2003) and along Yandama, Tilcha, Coonee, and Boolkaree Creeks that feed into Lake Callabonna and at Lake Starvation in South Australia (Greenfield 2007).

Key points:

  • Athel Pine (Tamarix aphylla) is fast growing and becomes reproductive at three years of age.
  • It is able to establish on saline and alkaline soils.
  • It disperses and establishes by seed, and broken stem material is moved by flood water.
  • It is a threat to the pastoral and tourism industry and the riparian biodiversity of central Australia.

How it spreads:

Athel Pine reproduces by seeds that are dispersed by wind, flood waters and animals. The viability of seed is short, usually only a few weeks. It may also spread via suckering and the rooting of buried or submerged stem segments that have broken from the tree and been carried significant distances by flood waters (Navie 2004).

Where it grows:

Athel Pine grows in semi-arid, arid, sub-tropical and warmer temperate regions and is particularly common along inland waterways, as well as near towns, communities, homesteads, stockyards and bores. It is also a weed of open woodlands, grasslands, pastures and roadsides (Navie 2004). It is tolerant of saline and alkaline soils (CRC 2003).

Maps of Athel Pine's current and potential distribution can be found at http://www.weeds.org.au/WoNS/athelpine/ 

Flower colour:

White, Pink

Distribution map: Weed Distribution Map

Athel Pine is a Weed of National Significance. It is regarded as one of the worst weeds in Australia because of its invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic and environmental impacts.

Athel Pine displaces eucalypts and other native vegetation, resulting in dominance of the ground vegetation by relatively few species of introduced or salt-tolerant plants, and a reduction in the number of birds and reptiles (Fuller 1998). The replacement of native vegetation with Athel Pine may also alter the fire regime as Athel Pine does not burn well and hence suppresses the natural tendency of fire to provide a trigger for regeneration of native species. Athel Pine excretes salt through its leaves which leads to higher salinity levels in the dense compacted litter. It does not form nesting hollows so nesting sites are lost when Athel Pine displaces native vegetation (ARMCANZ 2001).

Athel Pine is drought resistant and varies its water use dependant on availability. It is responsible for lowering water tables, and thus draining waterholes and depriving native flora of water (Fuller 1998). Dense Athel Pine infestations increases sedimentation rates by trapping and stabilising sediment during river flows. This can cause increased overland flooding and erosion (ARMCANZ 2001).

Athel Pine impacts the pastoral industry by increasing the difficulty of mustering, and decreasing pasture production. It contributes to the drying up of waterholes, thus reducing the number of watering points, increasing management pressures and reducing carrying capacity (ARMCANZ 2001).

Athel Pine also impacts the tourist industry by reducing the aesthetic value of rivers and creeks in Central Australia (ARMCANZ 2001).


Athel Pine is native to northern Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Iran and India (Fuller 1998).


Athel Pine was introduced to Australia in the 1930s and 1940s as a useful tree in arid and semi-arid regions (Broken Hill and Whyalla). Plantings in other states followed in the 1940s and 1950s. It is classified as a sleeper weed because it was present in Australia for some time before it became weedy (CRC 2003). Extensive infestations occurred along the Finke River during the 1970s and 1980s as a result of extensive floods (ARMCANZ 2001).


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