Elephantopus mollis, also known as elephants’ foot, is native to the American tropics. It is also found in the Pacific, Asia, and Africa since it was introduced in the beginning of the 20th century.
This perennial herb from the Asteraceae family is considered to be a major invasive weed, particularly in the Pacific region as it threatens endangered species. The rosettes smother low vegetation and degradates pastures and plantations in areas of high rainfall. It grows to 0.5 – 1m but can occasionally reach 2m high.
While E. mollis thrives on high soil fertility it can also tolerate poor soils. It prefers areas of full sunlight and relatively high rainfall.
Its means of movement and dispersal is by the climate, humans, and animals. Seeds can be spread by up to a couple of hundred meters by the wind and water. They can also stick to and be dispersed on the clothing of humans and fur of animals. There been no specific reports of accidental or intentional introduction, though it’s presumed that the seeds can be transported on machinery, there has been contamination of seeds of pasture species, and deliberate introduction may have occurred for E. mollis’ use as a medicinal herb or ornamental plant.
Due to its unwelcome, invasive nature it has caused economic impact in areas where it grows. In the Pacific it affects various crops. In Queensland, Australia it’s a threat to the beef and dairy industries. In terms of social impact, it can cause irritation on the skin when coming in contact with the hairs on the leaves.
While E. mollis mostly has a negative impact, it does have some documented uses. In Brazil its leaves are used to treat respiratory conditions such as coughs, and bronchitis, as well as an emollient and diaphoretic. In Ecuador it is used for the treatment of leishmaniasis.