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weed wars: hedge bindweed and spotted spurge

hedge bindweeds (left) and spotted spurgeNOT ALL WEEDS ARE ALIENS, and at the moment I’m actually doing battle with two that are technically native American plants, but very unwelcome nonetheless. I’m currently uninviting spotted spurge (top right), a low-growing Euphorbia relative that’s technically Euphorbia maculata or Chamaesyce maculata, depending who you ask. At the other extreme of height, I’m asking hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium, formerly classified as a Convolvulus, top left) to please let go its counterclockwise twining grasp on some shrubs and ornamental grasses here. Out, out damn weeds!

spotted spurge

SPOTTED SPURGE, or Euphorbia maculata, is an annual that waits until the weather warms to really get going here in early summer, when its left-behind, prior-year seeds germinate. In my garden it loves the patio’s cozy cracks and crevices.

Dig it, roots and all as soon as it shows up, but if you are inclined to getting dermatitis from the latex sap of euphorbias, be especially mindful and wear gloves. Always be careful with latex-filled plants not to touch your mouth or eyes, whether you have ever had a rash or not!  I use a hori-hori, or Japanese weeding knife, to get it out from between the pavers, but an old kitchen knife will do.

Spotted spurge, or Euphorbia maculata, in cracks in pavementThe seeds need light to germinate, so a heavy layer of mulch would work to help stop this one—though not on my crack-and-crevice issue, of course. (Can you picture me spooning mulch onto every crevice?)

Each year my crop has more leaves with characteristic reddish-brown spots early in the season than it does later, and there are related species that have no spots at all, but spotted spurge my issue certainly is. It came in on a nursery pot, a common way to get this weed in your garden, so be more careful than I was.

A final fact: Spotted spurge is apparently fatal to grazing sheep (though apparently it’s not effective on rabbits and woodchucks–or at least my local ones refuse to eat it!). More on spotted spurge and its cousins, from UC-Davis.

hedge bindweed

THIS WAS A NEW ONE on me this year, a perennial climber with impressive towering ambitions. When I first saw it I thought it was field bindweed, a.k.a. wild morning glory (Convolvulus arvensis). But then I noticed differences in scale, and more. The leaves are slightly different in shape than field bindweed’s, and the flowers are a little larger, but that can be hard to feel confident about unless you can compare them side-by-side.

Field bindweed, left versus hedge bindweedThe easiest ways to tell one from the other, I think: hedge bindweed’s flowers have one large bracht at their bases. In field bindweed (which by the way seems happy to grow along the ground, not just climb) there are two smaller brachts, lower down on the stem, behind the flower. The vintage illustrations I merged, above, compare the two—with field bindweed on the left and hedge bindweed on the right (a photo of a hedge bindweed leaf is just below). More comparison here.

fi=oliage of hedge bindweedI can’t get into the bed of tall ornamental grasses and twig willows right now to dig out the bindweed’s root system, so I’m trying an alternate suggestion from Teri Dunn Chace’s new book: stripping off all the foliage, again and again, to weaken the vine, meantime removing all the flowers to prevent seeds from being set. But I know I must go back for those roots this fall.

more weed wisdom

(Illustrations used with permission of USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. “An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions.” 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 3: 47.)

  1. Bobbie G. says:

    I have been pulling spurge, and fighting a rash on my arms, all summer. (Boy does the rash itch) Now I know it’s the spurge getting back at me for trying to keep it at bay! It loves the Denver climate, and this is a banner year. Edwin Rollin Spencer, in All About Weeds, describes bindweed as “one of the meanest of weeds. A whispering little hussy that creeps in and spoils everything.” He also describes it as a “federal outlaw.’ On that we can all agree!

    1. margaret says:

      I am sorry for the discomfort, Bobbie, but at least now you know the culprit, the spotted spurge. Who would have thought it was a Euphorbia, right?

      Hi, Abuelita.Yes, I suppose we have to make our silver linings…though I do wish I could rid myself of the damn thing. :)

      1. jackie says:

        Me Too!
        Knew I had a latex allergy but did not know I was getting the recent foot and hand rash from the spurge. Another reason, besides my atrocious manicure, to wear gloves.

    2. jackie says:

      Me Too! Always new I had a latex allergy but did not know I was getting the recent foot and hand rash from the spurge. Another reason, besides my atrocious manicure, to wear gloves.

  2. Vicky says:

    I have that stupid spurge taking over everywhere this year. I used to be able to keep up on it but not this year. It is even growing in my creeping thyme making a fine mess.

  3. Kathy Tremblay says:

    I’d been meaning to look up that flat little weed that’s been showing up here lately, but you saved me the time — spotted spurge! And I do remember seeing it in nursery pots. Thanks, Margaret!

    1. margaret says:

      I know what you mean, Kathy — I recognized but could never name many weeds till I finally just got on this campaign the last couple of years to take the time and do it. I definitely got the spotted spurge on a nursery plant.

  4. Langtry says:

    I have never had field bindweed until the last 5 years, and am assuming it came in with perennials I purchased. It is everywhere in my garden beds now. I have heard that if you must use roundup to paint it on the leaves, rather than spray, so that it is limited just to the weed. However, glyphosate is double trouble: here in Idaho, the areas where the primary ingredient phosphate is mined are toxic waste dumps. From our friends at Patagonia, See:
    http://www.thecleanestline.com/2011/02/phosphate-mining-sealing-southern-idahos-fate.html

    I’ll continue to pull and pitchfork the bindweed, thank you.

    This is my other nemesis: Malva spp, or mallow. Deep Rooting if you don’t get it young, and it is EVERYWHERE!

  5. Karen Budnick says:

    Oh, my gosh – I’ve dealt with about every kind of weed over the years but I’ve never dealt with my latest invasion – apparently it’s called Nutsedge. Nut is the word. This stuff is driving me nuts. Apparently it loves the sun and will come right through anything – mulch, plastic, you name it. About all you can do is pull it out. It’s even coming up in my lawn. It’s made its way through my veg garden path which is landscape cloth with wood chips. I’m fighting but the Nudsedge may win…

  6. Shaz says:

    I am loving your book! You write what my heart feels!
    Such profundity! “An invitation to receive the secret from the source”. WOW!

    btw oxalis corniculata (and many others) are edible.

    <3
    shaz

  7. One of my favorite garden weeds is Sonchis, or sow thistle. Not a true thistle at all, it is actually a member of the lettuce family. With a deep tap root that goes down three feet or more, it brings up essential minerals from the subsoils and incorporates them into its luxurient growth. Harvested and put on the compost pile, these then become available to the surface soils and all of the plants that live up there near the surface. More information about this plant (and photos) can be found here:

    http://alan-chadwick.org/html%20pages/techniques/garden_plants/veg_photos.html

  8. Donna says:

    Spotted Spurge! Finally, I have a name for that dreaded thing that pops up on my brick walkway. Thanks so much; now I can swear at it by name. LOVE your site.

  9. Craig Levy says:

    Bindweed, whether field or hedge, used to be the most aggravating of weeds for me. Their roots are deep and wide ranging, making them especially difficult to remove every last piece. You know full well that any partial root left behind will continue to grow.

    I finally recognized that I would never be able to remove every last root and adopted a different control strategy – remove the stems as they emerge from the ground. The key is consistency, which means doing a thorough patrol every week or two with no lapsing. The idea is to force the root to continue pushing up new stems while exhausting its vitality. If you leave the stems to grow for too long a time before removal then you will be helping the leaves to grow the roots. Starve the little beasties.

    You have to be committed to doing a thorough patrol every week or two and never letting up, ever. This may take a year or two but eventually you will see your efforts rewarded by not seeing as many stems and they will be weaker. You may not succeed in completely eliminating them but you will find managing them to be infinitely easier. It’s too late this year but try it next year when they start growing again. You know where your problem areas are, so concentrate there first. Believe me, it gets better.

    I should have stopped at the end of the last paragraph but I have to end this with some irony. Once my problem areas were under control and I know longer felt under siege, I learned to make peace with these plants. A floral twist to “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” I now purposely allow these plants to grow on the fringes between the cultivated parts of the garden and the wild fields at the edges. Years ago I planted a small grouping of an upright blue juniper to act as a transition from the fields and the lawn. They’re in a difficult to manage location with plenty of blackberries and raspberries as supporting characters. And also bindweed. The bindweeds don’t overwhelm the junipers but look instead as if they’ve been artistically trained on them with a tracery of stems here and there but not smothering or hindering the junipers. Now that I’m no longer filled with angst, I can appreciate the flowers and look forward to seeing them each year. Unbelievably, I haven’t found new influxes of them growing, so I don’t worry if these plants produce seeds or not.

  10. I was just looking at these (spotted spurge) this morning and wondering what they are. They get in our grass and our veg garden.

    My bane is morning glories, which are a terrible scourge. They crawl up my lilac and threaten to strangle it every year. Not to mention what they do to my tomatoes, beans, and pepper plants! Ugh I hate them so much and they seem almost impossible to eradicate. I can’t get rid of the plants in my neighbors’ yards, so they self propagate wildly year after year. I wonder if the method described above – repeated defoliation – would at least prevent more seeds from being sown in MY garden…

    1. margaret says:

      Glad to be timely, Barclay. The repeated defoliation at least sets things back, so why not try? I am madly snipping things at the base (even if I cannot unwind them from the hosts they have chosen) and stripping leaves and digging/pulling, and even smothering some things with plastic right now. Onward!

  11. Jan shue says:

    I have read that tagetes minuta has a strong herbicidal root secretion which repels weeds such as convolvulus and other nastys. I know Chiltern seeds carry it.

  12. Terry says:

    Let me tell a horror story, but with a good ending.

    We have had the bindweed so terribly here. In localized patches it can be eliminated in about 5 years if you are willing to do careful excavation every time you see growth, even to the point of dropping everything to do this when it is first seen, since it grows so explosively here in coastal NW CA. However, when the source is old large roots coming from an inaccessible place, like under a neighbor’s house or even coming from across the street under the paved road (!!), only herbicide seems to work in all the years I have fought it. But routine spraying and/or leaf painting where care must be taken didn’t seem to make much of a dent, even over several years. It would completely engulf anything up to 10 feet high by the end of the summer here, then went dormant so could be easily spread by cultivation if I forget where it was. In the case of inaccessible main roots (which can be 20 feet or more away and up to 10 feet deep in good soil), and not near where I was planning on growing food for at least a few years, what worked was this: I let it grow for at least a month and controlled my angst somewhat by corralling/tying the vines into bunches during this time. When there were large bunches of healthy growth, then each bunch was cut off at the ends and stuck into a mason jar or pail filled partway with UNDILUTED roundup or similar. The slightly tilted containers were placed into a pit in the soil to avoid tipping, plastic wrap secured around the container tops to keep critters out, the cut ends were kept submersed and herbicide topped off as needed. This took a season of persistence, but only one!

  13. Dizzydog says:

    Can’t believe that you have never had bindweed. It is everywhere in my yard and I think it is winning. Don’t let it alone for a minute. I have been told that the seeds will stay active in the soil for up to 50 years. I have seen it come up through a brand new asphalt parking lot. A friend used a soil killer in an area where he parks equipment. If killed everything but the bindweed. It is evil.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Dizzydog. I’ve have had field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) over the years sometimes, though not for ages, thankfully, but the bigger hedge bindweed is a more recent invader here in one area. Not sure when it arrived or how…but oh, my, what a beast!

  14. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    There isn’t any way I can dig out the roots of the bindweed in my bed but you can bet I’ll be stripping leaves – daily if I can – the WORST weed!

  15. Jill says:

    Just visiting to figure out how successful solarization will be. I know spurges have unique biology. Their stems grow from the flower, so I’m wondering how fast they set seed.

    These two are non-native to Calfornia, and after a few seasons of fighting spotted spurge, I can say I truly appreciate out native Euphorpia’s and Calystegia’s, which pose no problems here, unlike their thirsty eastern counterparts.

  16. John Mindrup says:

    I been fighting hedge bindweed for years; on the surface it wax and wanes due to the fervor of my diligence. below ground those white roots run; ever seeking to pop up in my raspberry patch or a post tomato cage. I have been digging this spring; have half a trash bin full of mostly those white roots! My plan is to move my raspberries patch; and mow the area regularly for a couple of years. then keep it in tillage for a couple of years. It may be extreme; but the varsity of that vine is beyond words.

  17. Dennis Kiefer says:

    Today I was removing hedge bindweed off my Asiatic lilies. I noticed some leaves were being eaten by some caterpillars. I can’t seem to find any info on this so I’m going to try and raise the larvae in a terrarium. Perhaps a natural approach to the problem of keeping bindweeds under control will help. For now it will be fun feeding my new friends hedge bindweed .

  18. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    Few weeds are as despised around here as the spotted spurge and I THANK YOU for finally assigning a name to this miniature prolific pest. I have miles of cracks between patio stones and pathway pavers to clean out. In June, the spotted spurge shows up in the clean cracks and I must make another round on my knees. This year I bought a telescoping crack weeder to be used in a standing position. Tried it out already and it’s helpful, if a bit tricky.

    The Bindweeds are both lurking in separate corners around here, trying to get a foothold when my back is turned. This timely reminder is appreciated.

  19. Judy Otto says:

    Your photo of spotted spurge looks like it is purslane. Since I learned its nutritional benefits, I’ve been harvesting my rampant purslane for salads:

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Judy, Purslane is more succulent (and I do sometimes get it here, too; Euphorbia maculata has two telltale ID aspects: It’s filled with white latex sap (like all Euphorbia), and each leaflet had a reddish splotch on it. The purslane is indeed edible, the spurge would be a bad choice to eat because that sap causes dermatitis and other allergic reactions.

  20. Dianne says:

    We have spurge here in W. Tenn. but it is not as big a problem as ‘mulberry weed’. I don’t know its botanical name, but it is a major pain. Last year I was unable to keep up with things in the garden like I usually did, and ended up with the mulberry weed reseeding all over the yard. I know that I brought it home with nursery plants 20 years ago. Ugh! I’ve been able to keep it halfway under control until last year. I don’t know how long the seeds live in the ground, but if they are viable for years, I am in big trouble. Time to move? I refuse to let a weed run me out of my house!

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