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'Purge the Spurge' campaign tackles dangerous invasive weed

By Richard Piatt | Posted - May 4th, 2013 @ 6:57pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — What started as a decorative plant for landscaping has turned into an ecological nightmare along the Wasatch front. A drought-tolerant plant called Flowering Myrtle Spurge has become so invasive it's now considered a threat to the environment and even people's health.

Now, a Salt Lake County is trying to purge the spurge. This flowering plant was common at garden stores for years, but it's spread to the point that it's choking out native plants in open areas like this one.

The plant is a leafy with a yellow-green color and a milky sap that can be toxic. It grows just about anywhere, from steep rocky slopes to grassy meadows where it competes with existing plant life.

Saturday, Salt Lake County sponsored a "Purge the Spurge" campaign, encouraging dozens of home owners and wildlife-lovers to pull spurge out of their yards and open areas.

It's more about awareness than eradication, focused on letting people know about the noxious weed.

"It's this beautiful yellow flower and you think, ‘Oh, look how pretty that is,' " said Open Space Program Manager Julie Peck-Dabling. "But looks are deceiving because it's a really nasty weed."

The sap from the spurge can cause blistering, as it did on a boy last year. The health hazard, on top of the environmental concerns led to a trade at the Salt Lake REI.

People brought bags of weeds they pulled out of their yards and open areas and received a discount on other drought-tolerant plants. All morning long, people brought in garbage bags full of fresh spurge, which will be destroyed.

Myrtle spurge certainly isn't the only noxious weed out there. But, especially because of the health hazard, it is the scourge of the day.

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