Eradicate the Myrtle Spurge!

Myrtle spurge has a showy yellow-green bract. (Photo courtesy Colorado Department of Agriculture.)

Myrtle spurge has a showy yellow-green bract. (Photo courtesy Colorado Department of Agriculture.)

What early blooming, succulent-like plant looks at home in a sunny Colorado rock garden but is really an obnoxious invader?

Myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites)!

If you live along the Front Range, you’re probably seeing it blooming in your neighborhood about now. This is a List A noxious weed and is designated by the Colorado Noxious Weed Act for eradication. If you have this growing in your yard, you are required to remove it.

It grows several sprawling stems from a tap root. (Photo: Colorado Weed Management Association)

It grows several sprawling stems from a tap root. (Photo: Colorado Weed Management Association)

Myrtle spurge is a perennial that grows up to 12 inches high and 12 to 18 inches wide. The blue-green leaves contrast with the yellow-green bracts (the flowers are inconspicuous) that appear from April to May.

Native to Eurasia, myrtle spurge easily escapes gardens and invades our natural areas, out-competing native plants. It spreads by launching its ripe seed up to 15 feet. The seed is viable in the soil for up to eight years. So, best to pull it before it sets seed or you could be pulling for eight years!

But wait! Before you pull, put on some gloves because the plant contains a milky sap that can blister your skin. Rubber gloves are recommended. The plant is poisonous if ingested.

Two years ago, myrtle spurge appeared in my front yard and at first I was delighted to see something so unusual taking root. But I was suspicious. I watched it grow and once it “bloomed” I new what it was and yanked it. Since then, I’ve been seeing it more frequently in our neighborhood. One neighbor has it taking over an entire garden bed in her backyard. She’s been trying to get rid of it for years.

If you want to help eliminate this invader, join the “Purge Your Spurge” event in Boulder this Saturday, May 10, 2014. Take bags of myrtle spurge to 6400 Arapahoe Ave. in Boulder, and you’ll receive a free native plant!

I think our native Eriogonum umbellatum (sulpher flower) is a better choice anyway!

Sulpher Flower

Eriogonum umbellatum. (Photo: Sheri Hagwood @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)

For more information on myrtle spurge, see the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Fact Sheet.

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Anticipation and Planning

Prairie smoke in bud

Geum triflorum in early April just before bloom.

What’s greening up in your garden? Spring’s warmth calls to our sleepy flora: Wake up! Shake off your winter coat and display your new green garb. We gardeners get positively giddy with the first show of green. I’ve been tip-toeing through the yard almost daily measuring the conversion of dull browns to vibrant greens. It is slow in my yard compared to my neighbors with lawn. Painfully slow, sometimes.

This is the time of year I wonder why I took out all the lawn in favor of natives. I look up and down the street and see all this lush green color springing up everywhere. Then I look at my yard and sigh. No amount of moisture, sun or balmy day-time temps are going to coax the buffalo grass and blue grama to bounce out of dormancy ahead of their appointed time (mid May.)

A promise of blooms to come!

A promise of blooms to come! Can you guess the names of these three Colorado natives (see below)? (Scroll down for answers.)

Yet, if you stop and look there are some amazing things happening in my native garden. Dotted here and there are tufts of green. Buds are appearing on the shrubs and trees. And if I pull away the spent foliage and get my nose down to the earth, I see crawly things. Maybe this stopping and looking beyond the surface is exactly the point. Respecting nature’s timetable actually gives me pause. In the waiting, I have time to think about what my garden might need this year. I easily find myself making a list:

  • Those spireas left from before the big conversion to natives are struggling. I should replace them this year.
  • That Mahonia repens is suffering in the winter sun without the tree’s shade. Maybe I should move it to a more shaded area. (“But it looks so nice in the summer,” I argue with myself.)
  • I’m really tired of the Missouri primrose and salvia along the path. I should replace that with something native to Colorado…like the native primrose—Oenothera caespitosa and…what else?

Campanula-rotundifolia-SpringAquilegia-coeruleaIt’s not long before I’m pulling out the books and dreaming of new things to come. Eventually reality will set in and I’ll settle for just one or two changes that I know I can actually complete this year. So many plants and so little time!

To satisfy my itch to get gardening, I mowed the prairie grasses and forbs in the front yard. I mow once a year and leave the cuttings to break down naturally. I hope the birds enjoyed all the seeds this winter. (Read: If they ate the seed then I won’t have to pull too many volunteer prairie coneflowers and rabbit brush!)

North-Prairie-Mow-2What are you dreaming about for your garden? Come to our meeting tomorrow and share! See this link for more on our next meeting. I you can’t come, please share in the comment section below!

PS Front Range Wild Ones President Susan Smith has asked me to write a blog about how our suburban front yard became a short grass prairie. I promise to follow through with a series of posts. Stay tuned.

Answers: The three plants are (in order of appearance) Pulsatilla patens, Campanula rotundifolia and Aquilegia coerulea.

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More Plants with Winter Interest

Gaillardia aristata (Blanket Flower)

A few red flower petals still cling to Gaillardia aristata (blanket flower).

I’ve been taking more photos of the native plants in my garden between snowfalls. I’ve noticed how some plants show off their red colors as the snow falls off the seed heads. I especially like Gaillardia aristata in the winter. Its seed heads are so interesting and look different depending on what stage of seed production they were in when the first hard freeze hit.





Dalea purpurea (Purple Prairie Clover)

Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover) is stunning in winter light.

Dalea purpurea is another of my favorites in winter. Its erect form is quite stately and once all the seeds fall off, the reddish stems are topped with shimmering white in winter light. I think, if ever the space presents itself, I should like to plant this one in mass just to enjoy it in the winter.







Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats Grama)

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama) struggle to stay vertical.

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama), on the other hand, tends to droop with the snow load. Most are smashed to the ground under the snow. A few managed to keep their heads up and still maintain their graceful form. The birds do enjoy reaching for the seeds and this grass species certainly makes a lot of it!

Ratibida columnifera (Prairie Coneflower)

Ratibida columnifera (prairie coneflower) also holds up well in the snow, providing good cover and food for birds and mammals.

Ratibida columnifera (prairie coneflower), with its faithful yellow blooms in summer, forms a solid mass of stems and seed heads in winter. I love how the black seed heads punctuate the white background.

With winter solstice behind us, I know I’ll soon start thinking of spring blooms. But, for now, I’m content to enjoy my winter garden.

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How to Harvest Seed From Your Native Plants

Green milkweed seed pod

Green milkweed pods are not ready for seed harvest. Wait until the pods start to turn brown and split open.

The Seed Swap is Sept. 19th! Start harvesting seed now!

What’s going to seed in your garden? I’m seeing plenty of seed harvesting opportunities. Saving seed to propagate your own plants is a rewarding way to expand your native plant garden and share your favorites with friends at the Seed Swap next month.

As you stroll through your garden, make a habit of  noticing what’s setting seed. If you find yourself reaching for the pruners to lop off an “ugly” seed head, stop! Let the seed mature, harvest some and leave the rest for the birds and other seed-eating creatures. In my garden, most of the grasses are ripening now, as are the penstemons, paintbrush, and purple prairie clover.

Seed is ripe when it is hard, and brown or black. If you open a seed head or pod and find a small green seed that is soft and squishy, wait a week and check again. It’s important for the seed to be completely dry at harvest or mold can grow during storage. With some plants, if you miss seed maturation by a few days, you’ll find the seed has already dispersed.

The easiest way to harvest seed is to simply snip the flower stalks with seed heads, bundle them loosely and stuff them head first into a paper bag. Tie the bag around the stalks (don’t forget to strip the leaves off first) and hang the bag upside down in a dark, cool room. As the pods and seed heads dry, the seeds will burst out and fall into the bag. A gentle shake can speed the process.

Purple Prarie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover is already shedding its seed.

You can read additional seed gathering and cleaning tips from the California Native Plant Society.

Once you have your seed separated from the chaff, it’s time for seed inspection. You may want a magnifying glass for small seed. Discard seed with insect larvae and seed that appears smaller and less plump, as it is probably not viable. Store the seed in paper envelopes labeled with the species name and year harvested. Ideally, you should store your envelopes in the refrigerator but I usually just find a cold dark corner of the basement where they happily snooze until I’m tired of winter and ready to dig in the dirt.

For information on how to prepare your seed for the Seed Swap, see Chapter Events.

—Linda M. Hellow, Front Range Wild Ones Secretary

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When should we meet?

I talked to a couple people today that said, “Gee, I’d really like to get involved in Wild Ones but with my schedule I don’t know if I could ever make the meetings.”  It was followed up with comments about working weekends and such. This is curious to me because we haven’t even set any dates yet.

My theory is that the people who show up or speak up get to make the decisions (like meeting days & times & locations) in organizations. Of course, it is not realistic to believe that we can pick dates that will work for everyone every time. But we will work hard to find dates that work for the majority. Maybe we will decide on a ‘regular’ meeting time on weekday evenings for lecture style programs with guest speakers. Or maybe it should be weekday lunches? Maybe special garden tours or garden meetings will be on a weekend morning or afternoon so that we can enjoy the landscape and study the plants. Or should we meet at a private garden in the evening to watch the sunset?  Maybe we will alternate meeting times during the first year or two and partner with other organizations to reach more people. I don’t know.

This leads me to my next question – What meeting days & times would work best for you? And, while we are at it what part of town (meaning the Denver-metro area) is easiest to meet? Just leave a comment on this blog and make your voice heard. The more people we hear from the better our chances of sprouting an active, successful Wild Ones chapter.

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Growing a Wild Ones Website

One of the first “official” things we did to launch our new chapter was to set up this website for Front Range Wild Ones. We are in the process of sorting through our notes and materials for the resources that we think would be valuable to anyone interested in native landscaping. Ideas have included: lists of public gardens that showcase natives, links to other related regional websites, grant opportunities for schools, plant recommendations and, of course, information on chapter activities.

But we need to hear from you to make this website grow and become an important tool to promote native landscaping. What would you like to see added to our website? What questions do you have about native plants and gardening?

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Welcome to Front Range Wild Ones!

We are a starting a brand new chapter of Wild Ones for the Front Range of Colorado. If you are passionate about native plants and native landscaping, please join us!

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