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FAQ: Gunnera manicata and Gunnera x cryptica

FAQ provided by Defra.

This information is designed for businesses growing, selling, and/or transporting Gunnera. The advice provided concerns compliance with the Invasive Alien Species Regulation, not Plant Health Regulations. 

View guidance for members of the public concerned about the presence of Gunnera in their garden or on their land 


Recent scientific evidence has given Defra reason to believe that plants in trade considered to be Gunnera manicata are a hybrid of the invasive alien species Gunnera tinctoria. This hybrid has been named ‘Gunnera x cryptica’. To ensure that you are not trading in an illegal species, Defra recommends that you seek to confirm the species identity of your Gunnera through genetic testing. See the below FAQ for more details.

1. What are the concerns over “Gunnera manicata” in trade?

Defra is aware of recent studies (see Q.10) that, taken together, provide reason to believe that plants in trade currently labelled as ‘Gunnera manicata’ are in fact a banned hybrid of Gunnera manicata and the banned species Gunnera tinctoria. This hybrid has been named Gunnera x cryptica.

2. Why is this a concern?

G. tinctoria is an invasive alien species listed in the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019. This legislation also provides that an invasive alien species includes ‘any hybrid, variety or breed of a species that might survive and subsequently reproduce’. This means that legal restrictions apply to both G. tinctoria and its hybrid, G. x cryptica.

Invasive alien species are invasive non-native species that have been demonstrated to have the potential to negatively affect biodiversity, human health, or the economy. It is a criminal offence to (among other things) intentionally keep, breed, grow, cultivate, permit to reproduce, transport, sell, or release into the environment an invasive alien species. It is also an offence to plant or otherwise cause a listed species, such as G. tinctoria, to grow in the wild.  

3. Is my Gunnera manicata stock likely to be Gunnera x cryptica?

Yes, the current scientific evidence available provides Defra with good reason to believe that G. manicata is no longer present in trade and has instead been replaced by the hybrid, G. x cryptica.

4. Is this a new ban on Gunnera x cryptica?

No, this is not a new ban. Hybrids of G. tinctoria have been banned since 2017. Defra has not brought in a new ban.

5. What do I need to do if I have stocks labelled ‘Gunnera manicata’?

There is reason to believe that all plants sold as G. manicata are likely to be G. x cryptica. It is important that those looking to sell or buy G. manicata are not trading in an illegal species or hybrid.

Defra recommends that producers and traders with stocks of presumed G. manicata take steps to determine the identity of their stock to ensure that they are not trading in an illegal invasive alien species.

Defra recommends that the identity of samples is determined via genetic testing. It may also be possible to use the published literature to distinguish G. manicata from G. x cryptica based on morphology. However, the analysis would need to be carried out by a suitably qualified, independent botanist, and take account of the distinguishing physical features of G. manicata, G. x cryptica, and G. tinctoria (see report (ii) under point 10 below).

6. Can you recommend an approved provider of genetic testing services?

Defra is not currently able to recommend any particular provider. However, there are private companies that provide genetic testing services.

7. If I continue trading my stock without confirming its identity, could I be at risk of committing an offence?

Yes, if you have been made aware that G. x cryptica is a hybrid of a species of special concern. The G. x cryptica plant may also be liable to seizure. This is set out in the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019, which provides that it is an offence to intentionally place listed invasive species on the market. A producer or trader who is aware of the recent research and continues to market their stock without having successfully confirmed its identity in an appropriate way may be considered to have intentionally placed an invasive alien species on the market and may also be asked to demonstrate

Given the above offences, we advise that sufficient evidence is held in records to demonstrate the species identification of your plant stock. This evidence may be requested by enforcement officials, such as the Non-native Species Inspectorate.

Any producer or trader who continues to trade in what they presume to be G. manicata without having recourse to such evidence would put themselves at risk of committing an offence under the legislation and may have their product seized by the Non-native Species Inspectorate. Defra recommends that those holding stocks of plants presumed to be G. manicata confirm the identity of those plants.

8. Can I still sell true Gunnera manicata?

Yes. True G. manicata is not a banned invasive species and its trade remains legal. Hybrids of G. manicata that have not been made with G. tinctoria may also be legally traded.

9. Does this issue only impact the UK?

No, the research demonstrates that this issue is widespread and likely also concerns European stocks of plants currently labelled as ‘G. manicata’.

Defra recommends that those looking to import G. manicata ask their supplier to demonstrate that their stocks are not of the illegal hybrid.

10. What evidence supports these concerns about Gunnera manicata?

  1. Edwards et al. 2022 https://journals.rbge.org.uk/rbgesib/article/view/1998/1917
  2. Shaw et. al 2022 https://britishandirishbotany.org/index.php/bib/article/view/129/164
  3. van Valkenburg, Osborne & Westenberg 2023 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0284665

11. What legislation should I be aware of?

  1. The Invasive Alien Species Regulation 2014 
  2. The Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019

If you have any further questions, please contact the Non-native Species Inspectorate at nnsi@apha.gov.uk.