Leafy spurge in a non-native perennial forb, brought here for Eurasia. This plant spreads two ways. First by seeds, which explode up to 15 feet away from the plant when the plant is mature. The seeds are also spread by wildlife and birds. Leafy spurge also spreads by an aggressive underground root system. Researchers have dug roots as long as 28 feet, with rhizomes shooting up along these roots, in an effort to start new plants.
Leafy spurge is usually 1-2 feet tall, and flowers from May – September. The flowers are greenish-yellow, and divided into 3 cells. Two heart shaped bracts surround the true flower. The yellow-green color of the plant is very distinctive, and once you learn to identify it, you’ll be able to easily spot it.
The stem of a leafy spurge plant is another way for easy identification. If broken or cut, the stem will contain very sticky, milky white latex. Be careful not to rub your eyes if you get the latex on your hands, as it will irritate your eyes.
Leafy spurge grows in rangeland, woodlands, shelter belts, roadsides, and disturbed areas. Once established in these areas, leafy spurge requires monitoring and treatment for many years. A persistent program of spraying every year, and not allowing the plant to go to seed, is the most likely way to get this plant under control. One of the toughest aspects of leafy spurge control in some areas of northern Sheridan County, NE, is the accessibility. The leafy spurge grows in canyons and on hillsides covered with pine trees, and is very difficult to reach with spray equipment. Leafy spurge does not do well in cropland, so tillage is one option for control in open areas, if the infestation is easily accessible.
Biological control with insects introduced from its native environment in Eurasia may provide some control assistance. Results from bio-control are very slow, and should be approved by your county weed superintendent. Many areas of leafy spurge infestations in Sheridan County have biological control insects present. Bio-control is one tool in the control of leafy spurge, and can be part of an integrated weed management program; combining several types of control.