What Is Leafy Spurge?

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Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula), also known as Wolf's milk, is a creeping, perennial plant forming colonies and emerging early in the growing season. It is local to Eurasia and has multiplied through a significant part of the world. It was introduced to North America in the early 1800s and quickly became a problem to the local fauna and wildlife. Leafy spurge is a highly competitive plant that can outcompete native plants for water, nutrients, and sunlight.

Toxins emitted by plants into the soil can also hinder other plants from growing nearby. Toxins in leafy spurge also harm the digestive tract of livestock, causing scours and weakness. When consumed in high quantities, it can possibly be fatal. Cattle typically refuse to eat leafy spurge when provided in its natural state but have been observed to consume it when presented in the dry form mixed with hay.

Identifying Leafy Spurge

Fortunately, leafy spurge has several distinct features that make it easy to identify. Look for these distinguishing features when trying to identify leafy spurge.

  • Leaves: Leafy spurge has opposite leaves that are linear and lance-shaped. They are typically one to four inches long and have a blue-gray tint.
  • Flowers: Leafy spurge flowers in May and June. The flowers are small and greenish-yellow. They are arranged in flat-topped clusters.
  • Sap: Leafy spurge has a milky sap. If you break a leaf or stem, the sap will ooze out. The sap can irritate the skin and eyes.
  • Rhizomes: Leafy spurge spreads by rhizomes. Rhizomes are underground stems that can grow long distances.

Life Cycle Of Leafy Spurge

leafy spurge stems

Leafy spurge is a perennial weed with a 2-3 years life cycle. It germinates in the spring, flowers in the summer, and produces seeds in the fall. The seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 10 years.

The leafy spurge life cycle can be broken down into the following stages:

  • Germination: Leafy spurge seeds germinate in the spring when the soil temperature reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds need moisture and light to germinate.
  • Vegetative Growth: Once the seeds have germinated, the plants will begin to grow vegetatively. The plants will produce leaves, stems, and roots.
  • Flowering: Leafy spurge plants will flower in the summer. The flowers are greenish-yellow in color and have a star-shaped appearance.
  • Seed Production: After the flowers bloom, the plants will produce seeds. The seeds are contained in capsules that burst open when they are ripe, dispersing them up to 20 feet away.
  • Death: Leafy spurge plants are relatively hardy and only die independently when they are out of resources or due to extreme weather.

The leafy spurge life cycle is relatively long, but the plants can produce many seeds. This makes leafy spurge a problem weed, as it can quickly spread and become established.

Managing Leafy Spurge

Unfortunately, this invasive plant can be extremely difficult to control, making detecting and eradicating populations as soon as they are identified to be essential. Leafy spurge populations established over broad regions are exceedingly difficult to eliminate due to copious seed production and a widespread subterranean root system. As a result, aggressive management methods are required to keep populations under control.

Small populations of leafy spurge generally infesting healthy areas should be treated as soon as possible. Regardless of the strategy, leafy spurge cannot be effectively controlled in a year or with a single treatment. Complete control will most likely necessitate at least 5 to 10 years of repeated management strategies.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best way to control and manage leafy spurge will vary depending on the size and extent of the infestation and the surrounding landscape. However, some general tips include:

  • Remove the plants: The most effective way to control leafy spurge is to remove the plants. This can be done by hand-pulling, mowing, or disking. However, it is important to note that even a small piece of root can regrow into a new plant, so removing as much of the root system as possible is important.
  • Use herbicides: Herbicides can effectively control leafy spurge but should be used cautiously. Some herbicides can be harmful to native plants and wildlife, so it is important to choose a herbicide that is specifically designed for leafy spurge control. Contacting a lawn care specialist is the best way to ensure you get the right combination of herbicides.
  • Incorporate biological control: Biological control is a long-term approach to controlling leafy spurge. This involves introducing insects or other organisms that feed on leafy spurge. Biological control can effectively reduce leafy spurge populations, but it can take several years to see results.

Controlling Leafy Spurge

Controlling leafy spurge can be challenging, but it is important to remember that it is possible to manage this invasive plant. By following the tips above, you can help to reduce leafy spurge populations and protect your property.

Here are some additional tips for dealing with leafy spurge:

  • Control livestock grazing: Leafy spurge is toxic to livestock, so it is important to control grazing in areas where the plant is present.
  • Plant native species: Planting native species can help to compete with leafy spurge and reduce its ability to spread.
  • Create barriers: Creating barriers, such as ditches or fences, can help to prevent the spread of leafy spurge seeds.
  • Get help from a professional: If you have a large infestation of leafy spurge, you may need to hire a professional to help you control it. The specialists at Summit Lawns can help you manage this pesky weed and regain control of your lawn.