Painful invasive vine spreads

Chelsea Powrie

An invasive, potentially harmful plant species that has already overrun parts of the South Okanagan is increasingly spreading to communities farther north and in the Similkameen Valley, and right now is the perfect time of year to kill it if you spot it. 

Puncturevine is native to the Mediterranean, but has found an attractive home in the Okanagan with lots of heat in the spring and summer and warm rain at the tail end of the season. 

Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society executive director Lisa Scott says the weather has been perfect for the plant recently, and sightings have increasingly been popping up in Penticton and Summerland and especially at surrounding wineries. 

"Puncturveine isn't a strong competitor but what it does is it takes advantage of areas where we have disturbed soils and we haven't planted anything," Scott explained. 

That often means roadsides, gravel areas, recently landscaped areas and even beaches. This time of year, they are growing seedpods that are ready to burst, and those can pack a painful punch. 

"The spines on the seedpod can poke right in through sandals, and go into your feet, they can go into your hands," Scott said, adding they can also puncture bicycle tires. 

"So you can imagine walking barefoot on a beach or having your children playing at a playground and having the seedpods stick into them. But it will also go into the paws of dogs or into the mouths of grazing animals."

Luckily, it's quick and easy to get rid of the plant, especially if you get to it before the seedpods burst. The roots won't spread even if you split them — the only trick is being sure the plant is disposed of properly. 

"You want to dig it out, use gloves of course so you don't hurt yourself, put it in a bag and make sure it gets taken to the landfill to be properly disposed of," Scott said. "We don't want it to go into yard waste bins or into compost."

Scott says the main way they have found puncturevines being spread is through landscaping activities, so anyone who alters their home or business landscape throughout the winter should keep a sharp eye out for seedlings starting to grow next May. 

"Whenever people are doing new projects on their property and they are importing gravel, fill, new topsoil mulch, it's important to be aware," she said, explaining seeds often travel and lie dormant in the new material and wait until the weather warms to begin spreading. 

The vine grows fast when unchecked, so it's best to nip it in the bud as soon as possible. Look for its distinct small yellow flowers with opposite leaves, and check here for more help with identification — there are harmless local weeds that look similar, minus the flowers.  

Scott says she and the rest of OASISS are well aware of the ongoing infestation in the Oliver and Osoyoos areas and don't need to be notified of new outbreaks there, but if anyone spots a patch of the vine in Penticton, Summerland, the Similkameen or elsewhere in the Okanagan Valley, they would appreciate a call. 

"Having citizens report in on new locations that we don't get to is very important," she said. "We can better understand where it has spread to and start taking action where required."

Reach OASISS to report a sighting at 250-404-0115.

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