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Euphorbia myrsinites

Euphorbia myrsinites
Euphorbia myrsinites

Donkey-tail spurge or myrtle spurge is a study in perspectives. From a gardening point of view, you see a structurally-interesting plant that is drought-tolerant and ignores poor soils. In fact, the Royal Horticultural Society has given this species its Award of Garden Merit.

The relative ease in which it grows and propagates itself in a garden setting, however, is a red flag for qualities associated with a potential invasive under the right conditions, and thus a plant of concern to ecologists and conservation biologists. It has indeed displayed invasiveness; it is listed as a “noxious weed” in the states of Washington, Oregon and Colorado (source: USDA Plants Database). However, the invasiveness potential seems to be restricted to the western USA. The distribution map shown as part of the Plants Database marks no plants in the wild in Missouri, even though it seems to be a popular garden plant in that state.

Photography resource link: For inspiration, the photography of Eric Fredine. Prairie water landscapes, something I consider a “fresh” subject for photography. One challenge of many photographs is to not take pictures of the “same old, same old”. Eric's accomplished that.

41 Comments

In anticipation of another discussion about invasive species, I've posted a response to the previous discussion on the matter.

Certain rules may apply to art, but it seems the one who is brave enough to break a rule is the one who inspires us. Thank you for the photography links. I enjoy them.

Caution! E. myrsinites is a toxic Euphorbia. Depending on an individual's reactivity, it can cause mild to severe dermatitis of the skin and particularly of the eyes. It's highly advisable to wear gloves and eye protection when handling this plant.

Currently in quite a bit of pain (face & eye) owing to dermatitis from this plant. Had no idea what the plant was until looking it up. Definitely agree with wearing protection when handling. When stems are broken lots of white sap drips out.

Pretty nasty stuff, Andy. Hope you recover without too much pain.

i too have had a nasty encounter with this plant.
while trimming i got some milk on my fase ,washed immediately ,but must have missed my ear,woke up
with plisters.ouch!

This plant is highly toxic!! A few neighborhood kids and my two sons got into this plant the day before late yesterday afternoon, and actually wiped the white milky substance all over each other, using the plant as a sword. (don't ask. . . ) I had no idea until the next morning that they had gotten into this plant or I would have insisted they taken showers before bed. Both my sons and the other children woke up with blisters, redness, puffiness where the substance had touched their skin, including a burning sensation. My oldest son looked as if he had a second degree sunburns on his face and around his eyes. He is very lucky that the milky substance didn't destroy is eye. We contacted their doctors and treated them with benadryl and cortisone cream which has helped. If the regiment of benadryl and cortisone cream didn't work, we would have had to be put on certain medication, however that was not necessary. After two days of treatment my kids look much better, however they still have signs of blisters and redness. We are now making sure the blisters don't turn into secondary infections. This plant may be pretty to look at, but I highly suggest that you find another plant to plant in your yard. In my opinion it should not be used at all as a landscaping plant.

*wince* Makes me hurt thinking about it. Yes, pretty much all Euphorbia species should be avoided in gardens where there's a chance children might play with the plants.

Ditto on the skin irritation. We keep our myrtle spurge in a large clay pot, which keeps it contained. Yesterday, I decided (after not messing with it for MANY years)to clean up the dead stems and cut off the dying flowers. I noticed the milky sap - lots of it - but it wasn't until I went inside to wash it off my arms and legs that I discovered how sticky it was and how resistent to soap and water. Today I spent the Fourth of July indoors because of the painful rash that has ingulfed both forearms and a few other spots I must have touched. OUCH! I'm using antihistamines and Cortaid lotion, which are definitely making it tolerable. Lesson learned about milky sap (latex!) the hard way.

I have trimmed up this plant many times in my garden and recently experienced the rash. I then today got a shot of it in my left eye---------PAIN! My eye is on fire still after 6 hours! I went to the ER and had it irigated and also numbing drops/vicodin for the pain. I am still awake hours later dealing with the pain! Nothing has touched it. I am sitting here with an ice pack on my eye in the middle of the night!! I will go to my eye doctor first thing but I have learned my lesson! Eye protection and gloves is a must when handling this beautiful plant in the future. Please take my advice!

I'm searching the net for helpful treatment suggestions, so here's my story: this plant was in the courtyard of my condo in Utah, I didn't know what it was and indeed, in trimming it back the milky white latex like juice got on my hands, and even after I thought I had it all cleaned up (any suggestions on the best solvent to get it off as soap and water doesn't do it?) I also used the alcohol based waterless hand cleaner which seemed to remove the stickiness a bit... but somehow I managed to rub my eyes - my husband was fixing hatch chili peppers in the kitchen, so I figured it must have been that I got pepper oil on my hands and in my eyes, but after flushing my eyes for over an hour off and on, they finally stopped making tears, but then the burn expanded to around my eyes and inside my nose - total pain time over 4 hours plus. It wasn't til this morning that I thought about that plant being the culprit as the backs of both hands had small rashes and I started to look for the spurge info through wikipedia, not knowing what it was it took a while to use key words to try to figure out the plant name!

My eyesight seems ok, any longer term effects or once it's subsided it's done? Thanks to all who posted previously for the info. I will also be wearing full disposable protection to remove this from the courtyard! and will tell people who may not know what it is, how dangerous it can be. Wish someone had alerted me BEFORE I got into it!

Trimmed this plant and experienced a feeling of being repelled. Lots of milky sap. Then my eye starting burning and wouldn't stop for about 8 hours. Called poison control and ended up at the emergency room, where they numbed the eye with drops. The skin around my eye looked and felt like it had been burnt.Still have burn marks on my skin (very faint) after 10 days. This plant appeared in my garden in Columbus Ohio about 3 years ago. I liked it because it stays green all winter. Carmen from Poison Control is trying to figure out how it got here and has trouble believing that it stays green all winter. We think it might be invasive, any comments welcome!

Oh my. I am a mess. My whole face looks and feels like I have been burnt. I thought at first I had come into contact with peppers I was cleaning up in the garden. I had NO idea that the milky stuff in that "cool looking plant" was the culprit. I KNOW I didn't smear it all over my face. I washed my hands well. This stuff is toxic!!!! It has taken me a while to track down this information. I don't wish this on anybody!

Me too! So pleased to find this site where people have shared experience because it took me a while to discover why my index finger tip was throbbing with blisters like a toxic battery acid burn three days after pruning euphorbias . I have grown many euphorbia varieties in my New Zealand garden for the past ten years and never had such a bad reaction. Thanks for sharing everyone. Maybe the plant is growing in toxicity? I have pruned it for years without consequences like this .

I just found this site.Thank you all for your postings. I to have just tangled with what I was thinking was a garden love, beautiful bloom , evergreen in the northwest, didn't even mind trimming her after the bloom, but.... i feel like i just tangled with a demon.. not even realizing that i had sap on me, my eye started burning running my nose started huting and stopped up . i too showered rinsed my eyes with soap and water and and still wow wee!!!!

I also had an experience with this plant 5 days ago. Had no idea the milk was poisonous. I had been pulling it out, trying to get it out of my garden as is it so invasive. I had no idea how it arrived as I had not planted it. Anyway, my hands were coated in the milk pretty much all afternoon as I worked my way throught the garden. Then I came in,removed my contact lenses, had a shower and reinserted my lenses and then oh boy. Burning like nothing I have ever felt. Took my lenses out and cleaned them in the palm of my hand, unknowingly putting more "milk" on them and put them back in. Anyway to make a long story short,after flushing my eyes with water numerous timges, we clued into the milk that had been coating our hands. I went on the internet and to my disay read about this poisonous plant. One sight claimed that soap and water will not clean it off after it had dried, but hand lotion or milk would. So I rubbbed my hands with milk and soaked some makeup pads with milk and laid them over my eyes. Today is day 6, I have new contacts in my eyes, and still I am wondering if I am feeling something in my face. Also had a big welt on my cheek and both my husband and I had small blisters on our hands that went away. Wow wish I had known about this stuff. Anyway, I don't know if it is my imagination that I am feeling stinging sensations in my face or if I am. Live and learn.

First let me say that I've had this plant in my garden for years and I still love it. However, the sap once sent me to the ER because one eye was swollen shut for two days with a chemical burn from the sap. I now wear safety glasses and gloves to trim it back. I believe (however unscientifically) that there is more sap in the flowering stems around this time of year and the risk of getting some on you is much higher. I wait until the flowers turn brownish to cut the flowering stems back and have less trouble with the sap. For me, all it takes is one little splatter on the face, and I will have a blister the next day. While I love this plant, I strongly believe that people with children should not have it in their garden.

Sounds like one needs to don a HAZMAT suit and goggles to deal with this plant. I've handled E.ridida (similar looking) and have never had a problem. Let's hope that the Dept. of Defense's biological warfare doesn't dabble in the garden!

I just had a run in with this beauty/beast. I was digging some older unattractive euphorbias out of our yard. I managed to throw two smaller ones away without a problem. But the largest of the three required me to muscle it into the trash due to its weight. It broke open and the milky latex splashed on my face, left arm and chest. I immediately went inside and washed all of it off (I thought). I went to work and mentioned it to my sister who asked if I thought it could be poisonous. I laughed but looked it up online and saw that it has a "delayed reaction." By the end of the work day my skin was on fire and my face was rapidly swelling. I went to Urgent Care the next morning because my left eye was swollen shut. I got a steroid shot and pills to take for 6 days. It's day 4 and the swelling is down, but the skin around my eye looks like I was burned. It's like parchment...tight and rough. Don't mess with this stuff! I agree that it shouldn't be in areas where kids or pets play (or some adults, apparently.)

Three days ago, I was pulling some of this plant out of my garden. I noticed the milky sap and my hands were very sticky. When I finished, I washed my hands twice with anti-bacterial soap. An hour later while watching tv, I wiped my eye and immediately encountered very intense burning. Rinsing it did nothing but then I remembered our bottle of colloidal silver drops (very effective for ear, eye, sinus, and throat infections). 4 drops directly in the eye gave instant relief to about 50% of the pain. All the pain was gone within 45 minutes. I only wish that I'd thought of this sooner since I was in agony for at least an hour.

Thank you to everyone who has put posts on this site. I live in England and had never realised until this last week just how deadly this plant can be. After pulling it up in our garden whilst clearing a lot of other plants unaware of the hazard i obviously got some sap on my arms and lower legs. Three days later and i have been suffering with such bad rash and itch that it has prevented me from having a good nights sleep. I can speak from experience that washing the affected areas with milk certainly helps to soothe and also benedryl tablets and cortisone cream rubbed in to the affected area. If anyone has any other remedies please post.
So glad i found your site.
I purchased another euphorbia for our garden before going on vacation luckily it has not been put in yet. My husband with a boiler suit and gloves will remove it to the trash bin later.

Recently I trimmed this plant in my yard and yes I have had this plant for years now. Yet I pet sit and have many visitors to my home and feel this is one beautiful plant I would be better off not having in my collection. I to have experienced the deadly milky sap and can tell you It was enough to convience me to rid myself of this horrible yet beautiful plant:

i love euphorbias and continue to collect them - just being extra cautious when it is time to cut them back. the one thing i have found that works instantly on any rash from them (usually left around the glove line on my arm) CALAMINE LOTION. I put it to the test this morming when I woke up with my left eye swollen shut and a bad rash on my left arm when i wasn't so cautious 'just cleanning up a few branches' last night. INSTANT RELIEF even though the chalky look of dried calamine lotion around my eye isn't quite in fashion, just yet! highly recommended remedy when you can't resist how awesome these plants can be year round.

What a terrible plant! It may look cool but definately not worth the pain. This is the second time I've gotten into this plant. I thought the first time I was having an allergic reaction to sunscreen. After yesterday, I know it was this plant. Swollen eye, itchy rash on my arms. Last time it lasted 2 days but was a lot worse and made my whole face swelled up. Hope it goes away faster this time. :( yuck!

Well, unfortunately I think I can top all of these stories. Monday evening I decided to "dead head" my Euphorbia Myrsinites. I've done the same to my Wulfenii in the past, and got the latex on my hands, with no ill effects. Anyway, I proceeded to carry out the work without any regard to any impending danger and I got the sticky white latex on my hands. Here's the big mistake, at a certain point I had to visit the bathroom, and went and did what a man has to do, without first washing my hands!!!!! You can probably guess the rest, but during the night I woke with quite a serious burning sensation around the base of my "manhood". By morning I was sporting several blisters the size of my thumbnails, that were burning and going strange colours. It's now Wednesday and the blisters have burst....leaving red raw weeping skin!!! It's hell, it's like a bad dream. For future reference, you can not be too careful with this plant. I know, I've learned the hard way.

My 3 year old daughter picked a piece of this out of the yard yesterday and woke up this morning with large fluid filled blisters on her nose and around her eyes. Her cheeks were also swollen. After visiting the doctor, they subscribed a steroid for her to take for 3 days. The doctor also mentioned that the sap from this plant can cause the skin/affected area to become hyper sensitive to the sun and that we should make sure that the area is always covered in the sun for at least 6-12 months otherwise discoloration can occur. Nasty stuff. This evening I removed all of it from our yard. Dug it out by the roots and transferred to a bad lined trashcan with the shovel. No contact.

I also had a unpleasant experience with this little demon ... yesterday I pruned ours for the first time. We have two railing planters with these mixed with white pansies... very pretty. About an hour later my face and eyes felt like they were on fire. I put cold clothes on my face but no relief. My teenage son insisted that I take some Benadryl because my face was red and beginning to swell. When I woke up this morning my eyes were very swollen ... I thank god for my know it all son ... who knows how bad it would of been if I didn't take Benadryl last night :)
p.s.
My heart goes out to the fellow with his manhood affected ... ouch

I had read in my perennial book not too long ago about euphorbia myrsinites (Donkeytail) causing some irritation. I had never experienced it before. We are transplanting a bunch of our perennials, as we have moved, and I decided we should take the donkeytail with us. Not long after digging it up, I noticed my arms felt like they were on fire. I mentioned it to my husband, and he wondered if it could be the euphorbia. I went in and washed up right away. It helped a little...but I used Benadryl and also hydrocortisone cream. I now make sure to wear long sleeves with this plant. Not a pleasant experience at all!!!

We spent the hot Colorado afternoon picking this out of the rocks. All that evening it felt like I had a sunburn on my face. Woke up about 2:30 am my eyes were almost swollen shut. Went straight to the drugstore for benadryl. Spent the next day sleeping it off with benadryl. Two days later the skin above my eyes and on my eyelids is peeling off. Seemed to have no effect on pets however.
KEEP YOURSELF AND YOUR KIDS AWAY FROM THIS PLANT!!!!! STAY FAR AWAY!

I'm up at 3:20 in the morning because the burning and itching is so intense. I offered to remove this from my mom's yard because she'd already had a very bad reaction to it. I was supper careful (I thought!) and wore gloves, used a shovel to dig it out, and didn't touch myself with my gloves after. I must have gotten one tiny spot of sap on me, though. Everything was fine for about 10 days - no itching or burning, just an odd brown spot/scab that I was careful not to scratch. Then two days ago I started getting pinhead sized blisters on both arms that are now huge and spreading. And, if/when the blisters burst, the nastiness spreads more. I've never experience anything that caused this much burning, itching, pain! Calamine didn't do a thing to help and topical cortizone or Bactine only helps for maybe an hour. I went to the doctor today and he prescribed prednisone and a topical antibiotic. It doesn't look like prednisone and benedryl interact so I'm going to go take some and try to get some sleep.

Glad I found this sight...just bought this plant yesterday and was searching how and when to prune...found so much more! Thanks for the warning!

I learned about this plant the hard way! I asked my Mother-in-law for a start and broke off three small stems. I didn't realize they were full of the milky substance, but it was all over one hand. After the ride home I washed and within a few hours I had stomach pain and diarreha most of the night. Then I started getting red swelling on my chin and hand. I ended up in urgent care, but the over the counter allergy med seemed to be helping, so skipped the steroid treatment. That was a mistake. Two weeks later, I am covered with blisters, welts and leathery patches of dryed skin. I've had a steroid shot, am on a 2 week plan of steroid pills plus a prescription topical ointment. The rash/blisters have been on me and spreading for over a week and I'm wondering how long it will take to completely recover.

So can some people have no reaction to the sap from this plant? We have a great deal of it in our yard and every once in a while we pull it out to keep it from spreading so much. I've had it on my skin many times before with no reaction whatsoever. I had no idea what it was until I saw an article about it a couple of weeks ago. Now I feel like I need to get rid of it. I pulled a bunch this morning and was careful but still got sap on my wrist. We'll see if I react to it now that I know what it is and what it can do. Yikes.

This is very helpful. I have several other types of euphorbia which I have pruned and trimmed without problem. But today I was cutting this species back and was a bit careless. About 4 hours later my eyes were burning and I could hardly blink for pain. I called poison control and they suggested that I shower facing the water for 15 minutes. It helped reduce the pain. 2 hours later and the skin around my eyes is puffing up. I also have small blisters on my hand. With the advice found on this site, I took benadryl and a hydrocortisone topical. I hope I can rest soon.

We enter into difficult territory when caustic sap, poisonous alkaloids, and irritating phtyo-chemicals become ground for the proposed eradication of a plant from landscapes and ecologies.

Invasiveness. No point in re-hashing the entire discussion here: save to say that for those to whome the term has biological relevance, no critique will be accepted. Yet nothing in any ecological system was not, at one time, new. And a great many plants we cherish as 'natives' now were doubtless behaving in an 'invasive' manner at one time. Why does the concept of 'outbreak crash sequence' never enter into the discussion? Why no acknowledgement that a great many 'invasive' plants occupy degraded sites, or sites whose open condition are a function of human tending, and eventually disappear if the process of succession is uninterrupted? It seems that these points should be accounted for at the outset of such discussions, yet they rarely do. It is clear that 'invasiveness' is as much a matter of conviction as it is of science.

Thanks for writing about reactions and treatments from the euphorbia latex. I pruned mine and the sticky white latex got on my knees. I woke up this morning from itchy blisters on my knees. It isn't painful, but it is a little uncomfortable. I will put hydrocortisone cream on it. I don't think it's an emergency.
I have neighbors with small children, and there are lots of dogs in the neighborhood. I might end up pulling the euphorbia out altogether.

I don't grow this (but did at one time) but I strongly suggest scrubbibg the skin with Boraxo hand soap, and do it several times. I have found that there is almost nothing that this stuff can't remove.

I work with my grandmother landscaping and yesterday I happened to get into an area with a lot of this plant. I was wearing gloves, but needless to say I got splashed by some of the sap. I wiped it off my face not even think twice that it might cause any reaction. Boy was I wrong. About 5 minutes later my eye started burning so I washed it out, but the burning just seemed to get worse. We finally broke for lunch about 15 minutes later and the burning had only gotten worse, and it had become extremely difficult to keep my eye open. My grandmother put some visine eye drops (4) in it for me which helped considerably and I took a nap for 3 hours with a cold cloth over my eye. When I woke up it didn't burn anymore but was still very sensitive and sore. If you have to go outside I recommend sunglasses, they help a lot. I thought that was the end of it, but it wasn't until later when I was laying in bed that I realized my cheek was wet. I went into the bathroom and found 3 blisters under my other eye, which had burst while I was sleeping. I put neosporin on them and now almost 24 hours later they are starting to heal and my eye has returned to normal mostly with just minor soreness. I advise EVERYONE to stay away from this plant.

I just finished reading all the comments and, boy, can I relate. I'm sitting here with a rash on my arms that I have been treating with cortisone. I woke with my face all swollen and red, with my eyes seeping and nearly closed. I don't think that I got sap on my face, just the exposure caused the reaction. Since I wasn't aware of the danger I was handling the plant carelessly and throwing it together with all my other garden debris and carrying it around. I have the plant in my rock garden around a small water fall. It is very aggressive so it has to be trimmed back. Now I don't know whether to remove it or try to deal with it. Do you think some people are more reactive than others? Is it managable with the proper precautions? What about my dogs?

Feedbacl would be appreciated.

I was just at another website (Google "How dangerous are euphorbias?), and also one other, and found some very interesting suggestions and facts. Because of the urgency of dealing with this, I'llrelate them here. First, don't wash with soap and water. Euphorbia sap becomes nonsoluble in water as soon as it's exposed to air. Instead use an emollient such as skin cream. (I wonder if a waterless hand cleaner like Gojo would be even better?) If it gets in the eyes, flushing with milk, which is thought to combine with it, seems to do more to ease the pain. Flushing with water only helps with the pain while it is being done. When it is stopped the pain is, if anything, even worse. Another point--euphorbia sap that has dried tends to become clear. If you think you have found it all, you may not have. So if this happens to me (I have many species of Euphorbias), I would thoroughly rub in a skin cream, wipe thoroughly with paper towells, repeat at least a couple more times, and then finish off with a scrub of Boraxo hand soap (great stuff) to get off any remaining residue. Hope this helps.

I found out the hard way how quickly this plant spreads in Ontario. Something tells me I will be dealing with this for years to come. I would have to call this plant invasive as one plant multiplied all through my pond and patio area extremely quickly.

I did not get it near my eyes, or so I thought, but my eyes and eyelids burned from it for days. My eyelids felt like crinkly paper. I didn't know to take precautions so you can imagine how my arms felt. My hands though survived without too much in the way of reaction. Curious as a bit more of the white substance would have been on my hands. I'm doing a garden walkthrough daily now to try and nip this plant in the bud. It was beautiful BUT!

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