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Pretty plant is dangerous, toxic, warns Invasive Species Council of B.C.

Two young girls who visited their grandparents in the Okanagan in July wound up with facial swelling after picking Myrtle spurge, an invasive plant with blue-green leaves and yellow flowers. Sandra Nimmo

The Invasive Species Council of B.C. (ISCBC) is warning residents of a plant that looks pretty but is harmful.

Myrtle spurge is described as a garden perennial that likes dry, disturbed soils and grows to 10-15 cm tall. It has sharp, blue-green leaves and flowers that are small and yellow.

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The plant, which has a desert-look to it, is toxic to humans, livestock and wildlife when consumed. The plant’s sap can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea when eaten, and can cause blindness if it gets into the eyes.

When the plant’s sap contacts skin, it can cause redness, swelling and blisters, as one B.C. family found out this past summer.

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Myrtle spurge is an escaped garden perennial that likes dry, disturbed soils. It grows quickly and aggressively, releasing chemicals from its roots which stop other plants from growing near it. Invasive Species Council of B.C.

The ISCBC says two young girls visiting their grandparents in the Okanagan in July wound up picking an array of plants for a bouquet.

At day’s end, the two girls were washed up and went to bed.

ISCBC says, unknowingly, the two young girls picked Myrtle spurge as part of their bouquet.

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“They got out of bed, and I was shocked to see their faces puffed up with blisters. I went to the store and bought some allergy medicine which helped but I didn’t have a chance to find out what caused the reaction because we were taking the girls back to Alberta that day,” said Sandra Nimmo.

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“A month later, we came back to our house, and I used my app to see what the shrub was. It was Myrtle spurge and it was everywhere in the surrounding area.”

The Myrtle spurge can grow to 10-15 cm. Invasive Species Council of B.C.

Nimmo said the grandkids recovered, with their skin clearing in about a week and a half.

Nimmo added she went to her sister’s place in Vernon and also had the invasive plant in her backyard. The plants were quickly removed.

ISCBC says Myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) is also known to gardeners as Donkey tail spurge.

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The Nimmos contacted ISCBC regarding the invasive plant.

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“By sending his report in to us, Doug (Nimmo) was able to determine what caused the incident and we were able to give resources on medical care and removal of the species,” said Dave Ralph of ISCBC.

“We never want to see this happen to anyone, especially children. We are always available for information on invasives.”

ISCBC says Myrtle spurge likes hot, dry conditions, and that it’s mainly found in the Okanagan.

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“The genus Euphorbia is notorious for its highly toxic and irritating sap,” said Allison McCabe of ISCBC. “As a horticulturist, I’m always careful when working with this genus, but many people are not aware just how nasty the sap is.

“If you already have this plant present in your garden and are trying to remove it, small infestations can be hand-pulled or dug up, but be sure to use caution and wear long sleeves, pants, and gloves.”

ISCBC says not only is Myrtle spurge an extremely aggressive grower, but it can be found for sale at garden centres, likely due to consumer demand and lack of knowledge.

“With our PlantWise program, we are working with growers, retailers, and consumers to spread the word about which invasive species shouldn’t be sold and grown in B.C. while providing non-invasive alternative suggestions with our free Grow Me Instead resource,” said McCabe.

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ISCBC says alternatives to Myrtle spurge include Lanceleaf Stonecrop (Sedum lanceolatum) a beautiful native succulent that thrives in hot, dry conditions or rock rose (Cistus sp.), which is drought tolerant and a good choice for rock gardens and other dry, sunny sites.

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