Why on Earth would anyone write about the prickly monster that is cockspur?” 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 that 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 its thorns from your person. Believe it or not, Cockspur Thorn (Maclura cochinchinensis) is a somewhat close relative of both figs, and perhaps not so surprisingly, mulberries (notice the similar type of fruit). All are members of the Moraceae family. Like figs and mulberries, Cockspur Thorn has a milky sap and simple leaves that can range from less than 10 mm on juvenile specimens through to nearly 100 mm on mature plants.

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Cockspur Thorn is literally a thorn in many bush regenerators arms, legs and bodies. It grows into an impenetrable spiky shrub providing difficulties for us, but great habitat for small birds. The sweet fruit are favoured by birds and some bush regenerators.
Header photo by John Tann, Flickr. Fruit photo by Glenn Leiper.

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 50 mm long. The vine itself is more of a scrambler than a climber and the spines seem to assist with holding the branches in position, while the fast growing upright stems shoot skywards.

Cockspur Thorn 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. It is relatively common in dry rainforests, subtropical rainforests and along watercourses. Mature plants produce prolific quantities of orange fruit, which are very attractive to birds and are readily eaten and widely dispersed throughout the landscape. The fruit is edible, juicy and sometimes sweet.

Cockspur Thorn is a host plant for the Common Crow Butterfly (Euploea core). It also provides valuable habitat for many small birds, where they can hide and nest with a degree of safety from larger predators. The thorns of cockspur are sometimes used by butcherbirds as a useful spike on which to impale their victims! All in all, it is a prickly character, but crucial habitat in our disturbed landscape.

Cockspur Thorn is literally a thorn in many bush regenerators arms, legs and bodies. It grows into an impenetrable spiky shrub providing difficulties for us, but great habitat for small birds. The sweet fruit are favoured by birds and some bush regenerators.

Header photo by John Tann, Flickr. Fruit photo by Glenn Leiper.

Spencer Shaw Land for Wildlife member Owner, Brush Turkey Enterprises Reesville, Sunshine Coast

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6 responses on “Cockspur Thorn

  1. I own a small hobby farm (10ha) just outside Dungog, NSW (9km SE) which has existed as a small holding since 1913 and probably farmed as part of a larger property for 60 or 70 years before that. I have a 600m boundary to the East along Thalaba Creek the banks of which are well wooded including numerous examples of cockspur thorn. Some could easily be 100 to 150 years old, have thorns easily 50mm long and a trunk 200mm in diameter. Along with two of my near neighbours I am currently remediating the riparean zone along the creek and we are removing lantana, privet and tobacco weed in particular. But the toughest of all the native growth is the cockspur thorn with tentacles reaching for the sky as high as 20metres.

    1. Thanks for this comment Nick. Cockspur Thorn is an amazing plant.
      Nice work clearing those weeds out from your creek.

  2. I’ve just cut one out on our block and it has reshot. Thinking I should leave it go, as we have heaps of common crow butterflies. Also discovered a juvenile plant while clearing asparagus fern by the creek. Sounds like a keeper. Someone said the thorns are poisonous???

  3. Cut one of these out and it has reshot thinking I will have to keep, as we have lots of common crow butterflies. Also found a juvenile plant while clearing asparagus fern. Someone said the thorns are poisonous???

  4. would have been nice to have a picture of the thorns for the doctors treating my husband in hospital for severe infection and possible poisoning. we live on acreage and rely on bore water but one has grown right up over the bore shed and reaching for the roof of the machinery shed nearby. my husband got caught in one piece and now the doctors are concerned they may need to remove the infected parts. none of the medical staff seem to have heard of cockspur bush.

  5. Just a note to let folk know that the mature wood of this vine is quite beautiful… and useful for wood carving and turning. If you do cut some… instead of burning the wood or tossing it in the landfill…. find a local woodworking group and offer it up to them. Or… of course you can send it over here to me. 🙂

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