Monday, July 1, 2013

Purge the Leafy Spurge

Farmer Fred has been keeping the ditch bank mower going. Ditches need to be mowed in the Summertime. It makes the roads and trails safer by increasing visibility. Mown ditches are less attractive to wildlife. Mowing also is a means of controlling noxious weeds.
 On the top of that list of noxious weeds that need to be controlled in our area is leafy spurge. To learn more about Leafy Spurge, click on the link.
Leafy Spurge entered America from Europe. In the 1800's ships crossing from Europe often used soil as ballast when their loads were light. They then dumped the soil near the harbor and loaded their ships with raw materials which weighted the ship for the return trip. The spurge seeds were left with the soil and began to grow near the harbor.
 It is very difficult to control leafy spurge as it reproduces by seed and has an extensive root system. It survives as a perennial, even in our extreme climate. When left to grow in ditches and on CRP, it can turn into a problem in a hurry.
It is prevalent in North Central America. Evidence suggests that it came to Manitoba with the Mennonites who fled Russia and took what they could with them. The crop seed that they brought with them was contaminated with the leafy spurge seed.
Infestation of pastures can mean that the grassland will support 50%-75% fewer cattle than a clean grassland. Cattle refuse to eat it, but goats and sheep will graze it down to the ground. Introducing goats or sheep to a pasture can clear the pasture of leafy spurge. The plant will be weakened by this and may die.  Where clipping is impossible due to terrain or other considerations, goats and sheep have been useful.
Clipping ditches and infested CRP becomes an important means of control. By clipping off the immature flower head, we stop the seed production. Removing most of the leaves weakens the plant and eliminates self seeding of more plants for the season. Seeds are carried into pastures by birds and wind. 
 These plants were leaning out of the ditch toward the soybean field. Keeping the Leafy Spurge under control on cropland is manageable, so far. Weed control with herbicides is a constant balance. Herbicides can knock leafy spurge down, but not always out.
This old rock pile is beautiful today with blooming leafy spurge. It is so pretty that I am sure someone could have brought along seed from their home in Europe as an ornamental flower to remind them of home when they came to America on the boat. 
Grandpa Sonny doubts that theory, as leafy spurge has been an identified weed in Europe for such a long time. Wherever it came from, Farmer Fred continues the clipping.
 Biocontrol methods include the introduction of flea beetles which lay eggs that feed off the plant's root system. They are very slow to move in our area, but are helpful. I have been to a flea beetle gathering that was led by our County Agent. It involved capturing the beetles with a net, placing them in a paper bag, then releasing the beetles in another infested area. 
We must not let leafy spurge take over the grassland. 
No matter how innocent it looks in the grass on this Summer Day. 
No matter how attractively it blooms before spreading its seed. 
Farmer Fred continues to clip it wherever he finds it in GriggsDakota.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - we have noxious weeds here too and also environmentalists who ask us not to spray or destroy things like yellow rattle, buttercups and the like. It is a delicate line we tread because, as you rightly say, they destroy the grass crops. I have several different spurges in my garden - their Latin name is Euphorbia - I wonder if they are in the same family.

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