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USU Extension, arborist warning public about invasive myrtle spurge

By Rob Nielsen - | May 7, 2024

Photo supplied, Jerry Auble

An undated photo of myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) in the Ogden area.

As gardens start to bloom again with the arrival of spring, officials are asking for the public’s help in not continuing to introduce a monster.

Myrtle spurge has been turning up in abundance, according to emails from arborist Jerry Auble.

“Myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) is a ground perennial having blue-green fleshy leaves on robust, long stems,” he wrote. “Its spring flowers are yellow. Often it is planted deliberately in part due to its hardy drought tolerant abilities.”

Auble said he’s been noticing the native Eurasian plant in greater abundance around the Ogden area, including the North Fork riverbed and areas of Emigration Canyon.

According to Helen Muntz, horticulture agent for the Utah State University Extension office for Weber and Morgan counties, the plant wasn’t always seen as invasive.

“It was originally introduced as a landscape plant,” she said. “It’s a very hardy plant, so to speak. It does really well in the garden. It’s drought tolerant. It has pretty blooms. A lot of aspects to it were admirable for the residential landscape.”

However, the plant’s less-than-admirable qualities started to show themselves.

“It ended up kind of taking over,” she said. “It spreads from seeds and spread through its underground roots. It can be difficult to eradicate, even using herbicide. It kind of has a waxy leaf that is difficult for the chemical to really penetrate well.”

Auble said a myrtle spurge plant can spread seeds in a 15-foot radius and the plant can be problematic to health.

“(It) has a milky fluid in its stems that is very toxic, in particular for children and pets,” he wrote to the Standard-Examiner. “Contact with the sap can cause severe skin irritations and blisters. It can cause (severe) injury to eyes. If (ingested) it can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. All plant parts are poisonous. You should wear all forms of protective clothing when handling plants — gloves, long sleeves and pants, shoes, socks and eye protection.”

He added that its most problematic trait comes when it gets loose in the wild.

“It is showing up more often in both residential and watershed areas, the latter is of the most concern,” Auble said in his email. “This weed out competes other plants and creates among other problems, erosion issues. Our water shed is vital for people, wildlife and helps maintain water levels of the Great Salt Lake.”

According to Muntz, in spite of any benefits myrtle spurge might once have been thought to possess, the plant now has fallen out of favor and can have real harms on the local habitat.

“The native plants are what supports our wildlife, our native pollinators, good insects and all of that,” she said. “If they are unable to really thrive because we’ve got other non-native and invasive plants taking over so quickly, that’s going to have a domino effect on the wildlife around it in these areas.”


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