Myrtle spurge: the ornamental that may be taking over your lawn and your neighbors’

By Ethan Proud
PREVIEW Columnist

An ornamental ground cover may be creeping from your neighbor’s garden and over to your lawn.

A popular ground cover, myrtle spurge, is listed on Colorado’s Noxious Weed List A, meaning that it is a new invader or has not established a foothold in the state yet.

This plant and others on this list are priority weeds, as their eradication is possible. According to Title 35 Article 5.5, known as the Colorado Noxious Weed Act, mandates that private and public landowners manage noxious weeds on their property that are likely to damage neighboring properties.

Myrtle spurge is capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction, spreading by seeds that are projected as far as 15 feet and root fragments. Within three generations, it can spread as far as 45 feet.

Myrtle spurge (euphorbia myrsinites) is also known as creeping spurge and donkey tail. It can be identified by its succulent gray-green leaves and its trailing stems. It has apetalous flowers called “cyathia” and the bracts are often mistaken for the petals. The flowers are a bright yellow-green and are rather conspicuous.

Myrtle spurge grows best in well-draining, dry soils and is often planted in xeriscape gardens. It is a perennial plant that reproduces several times within its lifetime and has an extensive root system. Hand pulling is not an effective treatment as the roots that are broken off in the soil will continue to grow. Thus, tilling and disking will result in increased propagation.

To mechanically remove myrtle spurge, at least 4 inches of the root must be removed and later efforts are required to manage new growth from the remaining root.

Chemical control is an effective management practice, but must be applied in either the seedling stage or during the fall, when photosynthate is being translocated to the roots. Clipping the flowers after seed development can prevent the spread of the plant by reproductive means.

Not only does myrtle spurge have a high propensity to take over your lawn and your neighbors’, it contains milky latex that is a powerful skin and eye irritant, with children being the most affected. If you have children or your neighbors have children, it is wise to avoid planting myrtle spurge and remove or eradicate any that you find growing to ensure the safety of your neighbors. When handling myrtle spurge, be sure to wear gloves, long sleeves and eye protection to avoid contact with the latex.

Archuleta County Weed and Pest is your local resource for managing noxious weed populations and controlling other pests.

This story was posted on June 30, 2017.