Purge the spurge: How to recognize and remove one of Salt Lake's most noxious weeds

Purge the spurge: How to recognize and remove one of Salt Lake's most noxious weeds

(KSL TV File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County officials are urging landowners to purge the spurge to curb the invasion of a plant that secretes an irritating sap.

Myrtle spurge is identified by its yellow-green blossoms and blue-green leaves, according to Salt Lake County Weed Control’s website. The flowers appear from April to June.

All parts of the plant have a caustic sap that can cause skin irritation, blisters, redness and swelling.

The plant started out as an ornamental garden plant because it is drought resistant, Salt Lake County Noxious Weeds Control Supervisor Sage Fitch said. It has escaped from gardens and is now crowding out native species in the foothills and canyons around the Salt Lake Valley, she said.

“The reality is that Myrtle spurge is everywhere,” Fitch said. “There are definitely more sites than we can track or control.”

The county’s weed control department has been tracking the growth of the plant for the last decade, and its population has increased just about every year, Fitch said.

The best way to get rid of the plant is to dig it out, removing at least four inches of the root system from the ground, Fitch said. If you can’t dig it out, some herbicides applied in the spring and fall can take care of the plant.

After that, landowners should monitor the areas where they took out the Myrtle spurge for at least five years, and plant native species in those areas, according to Fitch. Digging the plant out is very effective, but it’s just as important to follow through with monitoring the areas, she said.

Since all parts of the plant secrete the sap, eye protection, long sleeves and gloves are recommended for people removing it, she added.

The seeds of the plant also can continue ripening after it’s pulled out of the ground, so composting it is not recommended, Fitch said. Instead, you should put the discarded plants in plastic bags and throw them in the garbage.

“The reality is that Myrtle spurge is everywhere. There are definitely more sites than we can track or control.” — Sage Fitch, Salt Lake County Weed Control

Though the plant is covering more ground every year, Fitch said she’s still optimistic about minimizing the harm it does to the valley.

“The extent of which Myrtle spurge exists within Salt Lake is just really beyond what we anticipate we’re going to be able to manage or control in the future, unfortunately,” she said. “But I still really have hope and encourage people to manage it within their own properties.”

Two other invasive plants that weed control officials are keeping an eye on are garlic mustard and yellow starthistle.

Garlic mustard is edible and was used in cooking by early Utah pioneers because its leaves smell like garlic, according to Fitch. It grows on forest floors in Summit County and around Park City, and is slowly migrating toward Salt Lake County.

Yellow starthistle affects rangeland, sagebrush plains and other areas, such as Emigration Canyon, Fitch said. It has long thorns underneath its yellow flower and can dominate other plants growing around it.

Both of those species are in limited areas in Salt Lake County, so Fitch is hoping people will learn to identify them and report areas where they are growing. That way, weed managers can get a leg up on the plants before they cover too much ground.

“Because it’s not prevalent, we have an opportunity to reduce the impact by quickly responding to new infestations,” she said.

More information about noxious weeds in Salt Lake County is available at slco.org/weeds.

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