—Ed. note: “Conservation Corner” is a new column developed by Purgatoire Watershed Weed Management Collaborative Coordinator Shelly Simmons. In this first offering, Simmons tackles myrtle spurge, a toxic, noxious weed identified in Trinidad. Simmons, the collaborative and The Chronicle-News hope “Conservation Corner” can provide information about important conservation issues in the Purgatoire River Watershed.

Myrtle spurge: What is it?

Myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) is native to Eurasia, and became a popular xeriscape plant several decades ago. However, it has now invaded many natural areas in the US, outcompeting native vegetation and reducing wildlife forage.

Where has it been found in Las Animas County?

Myrtle spurge has been positively identified within the City limits of Trinidad. Thus far, the plants have been found only in a handful of residential gardens. Additionally, myrtle spurge is growing in the rock planter beds near the main entrance of the Trinidad Golf Course (this is a good place to view the plants “in the foliage”).

Why is myrtle spurge a problem?  

First and foremost, it is TOXIC, causing severe eye and skin irritation/blistering.  It will cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea if accidently ingested.  Always handle these plants with care by wearing gloves, long sleeves, long pants and eye protection.

Second, it is a non-native, invasive plant that can rapidly escape gardens and invade natural ecosystems.

Myrtle spurge is an “List A” species and eradication is required per the State of Colorado.

Is there a management plan?

The Purgatoire Watershed Weed Management Collaborative (PWWMC) is leading the effort to bring together all state and local jurisdictions, and local conservation groups to tackle myrtle spurge.  Partners will have a management plan in place by the end of 2020, with implementation to begin in 2021.

What do you do if you find myrtle spurge?

Please report potential sightings of myrtle spurge to the Purgatoire Watershed Weed Management Collaborative, Shelly L. Simmons at ssimmons@purgatoireconservation.org; or contact your local county, or city officials.

Additionally, if you observe this plant being sold at plant nurseries (brick and mortar stores, box stores, or web-based retailers) please contact the Colorado Department of Agriculture at 303-869-9030. This plant is illegal to sell in the state of Colorado.

How do you control myrtle spurge?

The key to effective control is removal of plants prior to seed set and to detect and remove plants early in their establishment. Small areas can easily be removed by mechanical means, but this should be done before seeds are set. Hand pull (with protective gloves/long sleeves/eye protection) or dig when the soil is moist, being sure to remove the entire tap root; if the entire root is not removed, plants will re-sprout from left over root fragments. Herbicide applications can also be effective. Apply 2,4-D ester according to product label before seed set in spring or to new fall rosettes.

What about other noxious weeds?

The Spanish Peaks-Purgatoire River Conservation District (SPPRCD) houses the Purgatoire Watershed Weed Management Collaborative (PWWMC). PWWMC facilitates noxious weed management in Las Animas County and provides landowner cost share and cost incentive programs for managing noxious weeds and land restoration (NOTE:  Landowners must reside within SPPRCD boundaries to qualify for landowner programs). PWWMC also provides technical assistance and educational programs to any interested person or organization.

If you have questions about noxious weed management or land restoration practices, please contact the PWWMC Coordinator, Shelly L. Simmons at ssimmons@purgatoireconservation.org or at 719-469-2847. You can also visit our website at www.purgatoireconservation.org.

— Information for this article came from the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s “Myrtle Spurge Fact Sheet,” which can be found at https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/agconservation/myrtle-spurge

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