Saturday, January 21, 2012

Will We Rue Goat's Rue?

Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis) is back. This federal noxious weed is also an Oregon “A” (worst) weed. Goat’s rue was first found here near Grant’s Pass in 2007. That site (an intentionally planted field) was eradicated, but recently it was found again, this time in the Portland area at three different locations. The first new goat’s rue infestation was discovered on Metro property by an employee of the Portland Water Bureau, who rents the property and noted the plants unusual tenacity for spread. That prompted her to identify the plant and inform the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to its location.

ODA took plant samples to Oregon State University’s Plant Herbarium for verification. While at the herbarium, it was learned that the sample stored there originated from an infestation in the Tualatin area. This set off the alarms. Further networking with the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services indicated that they had identified goat’s rue on Portland Parks and Recreation Department property. Within two weeks, three infestations had been discovered.

Adult Goat’s rue in December with seed pods still attached

ODA and cooperators are now working on a statewide management plan that will focus on expanded survey and early detection rapid response (EDRR) protocols that will hopefully stop the spread of this plant and achieve eradication.

Goat’s rue has a long and interesting history in North America. There are lessons for all of us in this story. Native to the Middle East, goat’s rue is now found throughout much of Europe and western Asia. It was introduced to Utah in 1891 as a potential forage crop. That didn’t work out. It turns out goat’s rue grown in North America contains alkaloid levels that make it unpalatable and even potentially toxic, especially to sheep.

Though goat’s rue bombed as a crop, the plant was very happy and escaped cultivation. One hundred and twenty years later, 60 square miles of Cache County, Utah, are infested. A half dozen other states have also reported infestations. This weed gets around because people continue to experiment with it. It is reputed to have medicinal properties.

Seedlings under litter

Goat’s rue has been used since the Middle Ages to decrease blood sugar and relieve the symptoms of diabetes. According to Wikipedia, there have been clinical trials with compounds derived from the plant, but they were too toxic for human use. That hasn’t stopped people from buying remedies derived from the plant, or from buying seeds and growing their own.

Out of morbid curiosity, I Googled “goat’s rue seeds for sale” and got 415,000 hits! Many of them were for another plant with the same common name, so I tried “Galega officinalis seeds for sale” -- that cut the hit list back to only 19,400! Clearly the fact that this is a federal noxious weed, and it is illegal to sell anywhere in this country, makes little difference in a global, internet-connected world.

That got me thinking about Internet sales of other weeds important to Oregon. Using Latin names to avoid confusion, and only scanning the first page of the hit lists, I searched for Scotch broom (107,000 hits, many clearly offering seeds or plants), yellow starthistle (832 hits, most related to its being a weed, but one offering C. solstitialis seeds for sale at 1 gram for 6 Euros, worldwide shipping), and Patterson’s curse (57,700 hits, including “in stock,” “worldwide shipping”).

Importing any of these plants into Oregon is illegal. Our regulations prohibit importation, propagation, and sale of both “A” and “B” noxious weeds. There are similar regulations related to bullfrogs, carp, and invasive animals. However, it is unreasonable to expect suppliers around the globe to be aware of Oregon’s regulations. Some of their customers want these plants and animals, and they are not problems in all parts of the world. Suppliers are in the business of making money, and they don’t break any laws when they accept an order from Oregon and put a package in the mail.

The person breaking the law is the importer, i.e., the recipient. That means we need to focus on educating our fellow citizens.

Lessons from the goat’s rue story for all Oregonians:

1.) Goat’s rue could be in your neighborhood. The sites in Portland have been there for years and gone unreported. It wouldn’t surprise us if there are other undiscovered sites. Keep your eyes open for a perennial plant that regrows from a taproot each year and reaches two to six feet with hollow stems and pea-like flowers and pods:
If you see this plant, report it to: or the invasive species hotline : 1-866-INVADER.

2.) Plant and animals sometimes behave differently when introduced to new environments.

3.) The Internet greatly facilitates sales and movement of plants and animals around the world.

4.) Check for applicable regulations before ordering or importing live plants or animals, including seeds. The Internet makes it somewhat easier to check regulations, but I recommend the telephone. Direct questions to either: Oregon Department of Agriculture (plants/insects), or Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (animals) – or just call the invasive species hotline, and we’ll point you in the right direction.

If we learn these lessons, we’re less likely to rue this rue and lots of other doodoo, too.

Dan Hilburn and Alex Park


  1. The blog info about Goat's Rue is fantastic. I got to know much more about this herb. Thanks for sharing such precious info about it.

  2. Thank you for this information. I am definately using this for my biology report!!! :) Thanks!