The weed I love to hate
Weeds are a fact of life for a gardener. I'm not obsessive-compulsive about weeding; in fact, I'm quite tolerant towards some (Mexican needle grass, I hope you appreciate it). But there's one weed that drives me bonkers: spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata). It's an annual that goes away in the fall and doesn't come back until late spring. But when it does, it's seemingly overnight—and it's everywhere, especially in inconvenient spots like this:
That's my prized Ferocactus rectispinus, a formidably armed barrel cactus. As you can see, the spotted spurge has staked its claim in this pot.
Reaching in with your fingers and simply pulling it out is not really an option. These spines mean business!
This is where long tweezers come in very handy. I grab the stem and twist the tweezers until the roots lift out of the soil. This is much easier when the soil is wet, so I watered this pot thoroughly the day before.
Ten minutes later, I had a nice little pile of extricated spurge. A few times, the stem broke before the roots came out, but that's OK. I don't think spotted spurge regrows from the roots.
And here is my Ferocactus rectispinus in all its spurge-free glory:
Spotted spurge is part of the massive euphorbia family. The Euphorbiaceae is the fifth largest flowering-plant family and includes members as diverse as the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), the world's most important source of natural rubber, the Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera), a widely grown ornamental tree, the castor bean (Ricinus communis), and of course the genus Euphorbia proper, which encompasses everything from the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), the woody spurges (like Euphorbia characias), the many cactoid euphorbias so popular with succulent lovers, to countless pesky weeds like my behated Euphorbia maculata.
What all species in the genus Euphorbia have in common, aside from the milky sap, is their special flower structure. The flowers (called “cyathia”) are reduced to only the parts that are absolutely essential for reproduction. Our pesky spotted spurge, which is native to the eastern U.S., is a prime example:
As much of a pest spotted spurge is, it deserves respect for how it's evolved to maximize its chances of survival. The growth cycle from germination to flowering and seed production is just one month. Let that sink in!
Each plant produces thousands of seeds, which can germinate instantly if the conditions are right (like they are right now) or lay dormant for years. The seeds are tiny (no more than 1 mm) and have hairs that allow them to stick to anything from animal fur to clothing, even shoes, making it easy for them to hitch a ride into the big wide world.
Basically, once you have spotted spurge in your garden, you'll always have it. That's just how it is.
What's your most behated weed?
© Gerhard Bock, 2020. All rights reserved. No part of the materials available through www.succulentsandmore.com may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Gerhard Bock is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. If you are reading this post on a website other than www.succulentsandmore.com, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Any unauthorized use will be reported.