by Spencer Shaw
“Why on earth would anyone write about the prickly monster that is the Cockspur Vine” I hear you say “surely it’s not native, is it?” Well actually it is, and not only is it a local native plant, it’s one of those annoying natives who have the audacity to not only survive the altered landscapes we have created…but even thrive!
Living and working in the bush can give one a begrudging admiration for this spiky vine, even when you’re removing thorns from your person. Believe it or not Cockspur is a not too distant relative of both the Fig’s and perhaps not so surprisingly the Mulberry (similar fruit type); all are members of the Moraceae Family. Like Figs and Mulberry they have a milky sap and simple leaves that can range from less than 10mm on juvenile specimens through to nearly 100mm on mature plants. Juvenile plants tend to grow in crowded, tight, thorny clumps before producing mature foliage on thicker erect stems, mature plants arm themselves with savage spines up to 50mm. The vine itself is more of a scrambler than a climber and the spines may assist with holding the branches in position, while the fast growing upright stems shoot skywards.
Cockspur is widespread along the east coast of Australia, all the way from Ulladulla NSW to Cape York, and beyond to Papua New Guinea, SE Asia and the Pacific Islands. The syncarp type fruit, that is very attractive to the birds at least (and not the worst fruit to eat), is produced by the plants prolifically and readily eaten which ensures their wide dispersal throughout the landscape.
They are a host plant for the Common Crow Butterfly Euploea core and provide valuable habitat for many small birds to hide and also nest with a degree of safety from larger predators. Cockspur is also used by Butcher Birds Cracticus spp. as a useful spike on which to impale their victims! All in all, they are a prickly character, but crucial habitat in our disturbed landscape.