Friday, June 23, 2006
Biodiversity Corner Leafy spurge
Topics for the Biodiversity Corner have always been about something found in Carlisle. This week I am making an exception. Leafy spurge, a particularly troublesome invasive plant, has been found growing in Concord. It was reported in the Concord Journal on June 8. A follow-up letter on June 15 suggested that the original warning had not been worded strongly enough. This plant may already be in Carlisle and if it is, we have the opportunity to control it before it becomes widespread. This is an appeal to everyone to watch for it and take action if they find it. Control of invasive species, once established, is difficult, expensive, and never-ending. With leafy spurge, we have a chance to nip it in the bud.
Banned in Boston: Leafy spurge is on the state's "prohibited plant list." It is also prohibited in 34 other states in the U.S., and is in the top 100 globally named invasive species. It displaces and wipes out native plants and is toxic to horses and cattle. If there is 10% leafy spurge in pasture land, the animals will not graze. The plant is very bitter and it seems that livestock— except for sheep and goats — don't want to risk even tasting it again. Its botanical name is Euphorbia esula and like other Euphorbias, it prefers a sunny habitat and does best in dry areas.
How to recognize it: Leafy spurge grows to about three feet tall. The tiny flowers are made conspicuous by the bright yellow bracts that surround them, making it look like it has yellow flowers. By now, the yellow bracts have appeared. The leaves are blue-green and lance shaped. If you handle the plant or break a stem, it releases a milky sap that can be a skin irritant for some people. Take special care not to get it in your eyes.
Black sheep of the family: The Euphorbias are part of a very large family of plants which are often called spurges. They are native to Europe and temperate parts of Asia. Not all Euphorbia species are tarred with the leafy spurge brush. Many are beautiful succulents and there is an international Euphorbia Society that fosters interest in them.
What to do: Purge the spurge. Learn what the plant looks like. Contact the Division of Natural Resources at 1-978-318-3285 if you think you have seen some.
Sources: "New invasive plant worries naturalists," Concord Journal, June 8; National Park Service site for alien plants at www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/eues1.htm has a good fact sheet with photos.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito