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Toxic plant could spread in county, board advises

Myrtle spurge is pretty but poisonous, experts warn.

By RON PATTERSON
Utah State Extension Service

The Carbon County Weed Board is warning residents of a potential poisonous weed problem.

The plant that could invade the county is called Myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites). It is an invasive perennial landscape plant that is beginning to create problems throughout the Intermountain West. The leaves are fleshy, blue-green and alternate. The sap is milky-white. Myrtle spurge does well in rock gardens and other xeriscape situations. Myrtle spurge has been listed as a noxious weed in Salt Lake County and in the State of Colorado and the State of Oregon.

The problem is that Myrtle spurge (it also goes by the names creeping spurge and donkey tail) ejects its seed up to fifteen feet away, easily escaping cultivation. Myrtle spurge has become a serious problem in the foothills above Salt Lake City and Ogden. Some of the effects of the plant include:

*All parts of the plant are considered poisonous.

*The sap can cause serious blistering of the skin.

*The sap can cause blindness when it contacts the eyes.

There were a couple of cases in Colorado where children nearly died after contact with the plant sap. Myrtle spurge has been found moving down the wash below Kenilworth and in several home landscapes throughout the county.

Since myrtle spurge is a perennial, the roots need to be killed. In addition, since the main method of spread is by seed, eradication efforts that keep the plant from going to seed will be most successful.

A chemical application of 2,4-D or 2,4-D + Dicamba has been shown to be fairly effective on established plants. Always read, understand, and follow the label directions. The herbicide label is the law.

After the plant has died down it can be removed by hand or digging. Be sure to wear protective equipment such as gloves, long-sleeved shirt, and safety glasses. Subsequent growth and seedlings can be dug again as they emerge. Seeds are believed to remain viable in the soil for up to eight years.

Homeowners who wish to replace myrtle spurge with a less invasive plant may try some native plants such as sulfur flower, Kinnikinnick, or creeping mahonia.

Ron Patterson is the Utah State University Agriculture Agent for Carbon County and is a member of the Carbon County Weed Board.




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