Invasive plant sprouting throughout the Okanagan can cause boils, blisters and temporary blindness

Toxic invasive plant alert

Casey Richardson

A toxic plant is blooming in the Okanagan, and several children in the Penticton area have already been affected.

The Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society (OASISS) has put out a public warning that myrtle spurge, also known as "donkey tail," is starting to flower and while its yellow petals look attractive, it contains a milky sap that can be harmful to humans and animals.

It grows all up and down the Okanagan Valley, so residents are urged to watch out and be cautious when handling it.

“When the stem and leaves of myrtle spurge are broken, there is a milky sap that comes out and if that goes onto human skin, that can cause blistering, swelling, redness and it can be quite painful,” said Lisa Scott, executive director for OASISS.

And if the sap gets in the eye, it can cause temporary blindness.

“It is a concern, the large amount of myrtle spurge that we have in the Okanagan Valley, but every year we raise awareness about it, people are becoming more cognizant both of the toxic impacts but also of its invasive properties.”

The seed pods explode at maturity and can shoot the seed up to 15 feet away.

“It’ll go onto your neighbour's property, onto the park next door and it also spreads by creeping roots.”

Animals can also have a reaction on their skin if they come in contact with the sap and if ingested, can become quite ill and see digestive issues.

“Myrtle spurge is very common in the Okanagan, a lot of people have planted it in their garden, it’s been put in landscaping, but we are encouraging people to very carefully remove it,” Scott added.

They recommend gloves, long sleeves and eye protection, and to thoroughly wash hands afterward before touching your face.

Dig out the area, removing as much of the root system as possible, and replace the plant with a non-invasive plant like Kinnickinnick or stonecrop, both great alternatives that will prevent the re-establishment of the myrtle spurge.

The plants should also be disposed of at a landfill, not in compost bins, to prevent further spread.

OASISS reports that several Penticton-area kids have already had unfortunate run-ins with the plant this spring, experiencing painful boils on their skin.

Since the society is well aware of the plant, new sightings do not need to be reported.

Find out more about spotting and removing invasive plant species in the Okanagan and Similkameen click here.

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