What began as a few sprigs of tiny pine-like greenery in a pass-along plant several years ago has become an aggressive colonizer in an area of our yard. The culprit is cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias), a European plant imported in the latter 1800’s to adorn graveyards. It soon outgrew its burial ground boundaries and has spread across North America, becoming more of a problem the further west it grew. It reproduces by seed and by a successful underground root system.
I must admit the plant is lovely to see in early spring with bright clusters of yellow blooms and contrasting bright green foliage. By June, the blooms have been replaced by a sea of green needles that stay fresh during droughts and extreme heats. Although the plant can really be attractive in mass, it is outgrowing the contained area along the gravel driveway. I deeply regret that I neglected to aggressively dig up the plants as soon as I noticed they were proliferating. Now it might be too late for an easy fix.
Like all Euphorbias, the cypress spurge emits a milky sap when cut or broken which can cause irritation on the skin or toxicity if ingested. Caution should be taken to avoid contact with bare skin or eyes. The plant is toxic to both humans and animals with sheep being the only animal that is not affected by the toxins.
I realize now that I should have not let the first few plants go to seed. Having missed that early opportunity, I must start digging each plant, trying to get as much of the root clump as I can…. making sure I am wearing protective gloves and long sleeves to avoid the drips of sap. I’m also aware that generations of seeds lie on or under the soil just waiting to sprout for years to come.
Somehow I think the spurge will win the war.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester