Myrtle spurge has become a scourge in Utah
Sep 05, 2019 11:55AM
By Josh Wood
Myrtle spurge has been listed by the State of Utah as a noxious weed. (Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org, by permission)
By Joshua Wood | [email protected]
Myrtle spurge is an invasive plant with attributes that once made it appealing in landscaping but has since spread to the surrounding foothills and caused significant problems. Local officials advise that it be removed to prevent it from spreading further and causing more harm to native plants. It has been listed by the State of Utah as a noxious weed.
Experts advise people to remove any myrtle spurge they find in their landscaping. The plant can escape planned gardens and invade the surrounding environment. To remove the plant, dig a hole about four inches around each side of the plant and dig below the roots. When doing so, gardening gloves need to be worn to protect against the plant’s caustic latex sap, which can irritate the skin and eyes.
“If exposed to the sap, people should wash thoroughly,” said Becky Hales, diagnostic desk assistant at the Utah State University Extension in Salt Lake County. All parts of the plant contain the noxious sap, so care must always be taken when handling it.
Using drought-resistant plants is often a good idea in Utah’s dry climate. Sometimes, selecting varieties for landscaping can include plants from other areas of the world. Many of the grasses we use come from Europe, for example. However, foreign plants can become invasive when they are so well adapted to the climate they are introduced to that they crowd out native species. That is what myrtle spurge is doing in Utah and other parts of the West.
The plants can be surprisingly common, even before they spread beyond their intended boundaries. That is why sales of the plant are now illegal in many areas, and efforts are made to educate the public about the plant’s dangers and why it should be eradicated.
The plant spreads by seed and root and its southern European origins make it particularly well adapted to Utah’s dry climate. Myrtle spurge has been touted as drought- and deer-resistant and has been popular for its colorful leaves and flowers when it blooms. The damage it does to native plants in ecosystems like Utah’s has made it a significant issue.
The best times of year to remove the plant are in the spring before it flowers and in the fall to prevent it from flowering and spreading further the following year. Once removed, the area in which it grew needs to be monitored for several years afterward due to the prolonged viability of its seeds.
More information on myrtle spurge can be obtained from the Salt Lake County Weed Control Program or the Utah State University Extension. Both advise property owners to get rid of any myrtle spurge they find.
“Take care of it as soon as you possibly can so it doesn’t become a bigger problem next year,” Hales said.