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Utah's Spurge Scourge Targeted in Weekend Event

Judy Fahys

Spring means spurge in Utah. And Salt Lake County is recruiting people to help purge the pretty -- but invasive -- weed.

“Spurge started out as a beautiful ornamental,” says Julie Peck-Dabling, open space coordinator for Salt Lake County. “It looks great in rock gardens, and that’s why it does so well in our open spaces and our arid environment. It’s very hardy, very water-wise. But it soon jumped out of people’s gardens and into our native open spaces and trails. And it just starts taking over and choking out everything else.”

Dabling-Peck says spurge spreads quickly. And its seeds tend to survive composting. Myrtle spurge, as it’s sometimes known, also contains a poisonous sap that’s harmful to skin and eyes.

She plucks off a yellowish flower, the sap drips onto her hand, and Dabling-Peck quickly wipes it off.

“Oftentimes, kids have found this in a garden or outside and thought, ‘Wow, look at this fun stuff, it’s like war paint’,” she says. “They put stripes on themselves and then wind up in Primary Children’s [Hospital] because it can blister your skin.”

Credit Tony Frates / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons
Purge up close.

Two community weed pulls are scheduled for Saturday morning. One is at the Parley’s Canyon access to Grandeur Peak. Another is at the Dimple Dell Park Wrangle Trailhead.

Volunteers should bring gloves and wear long sleeves. At the Salt Lake City REI, people can turn in the spurge they’ve pulled from public places or their own backyards. They’ll trade up to 5 water-wise, native plants in exchange for the plants.

More information is available online on the Purge Your Spurge web page.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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