Okanagan residents reminded to watch for invasive plant that can cause boils, blisters and temporary blindness

Plant can burn and blind

A non-profit organization dedicated to tackling invasive species in the Okanagan-Similkameen is putting out a call to action for residents when they spot a particularly nasty toxic plant in residential and municipal areas.

The Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society (OASISS) shared that myrtle spurge, also known as "donkey tail," will be starting to flower this spring.

The plant contains a milky sap that can be harmful to humans and animals, causing blistering, swelling and redness.

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

Several children around Summerland and Penticton came in contact with the plant last year, according to Lisa Scott, the executive director for OASISS, getting painful boils on their skin. Even adults were affected in the Similkameen.

"There also was an exposure in the Princeton area...The fellow had actually wiped his brow and it got in his eyes and he was temporarily blinded. They didn't know if there was going to be permanent damage, that was really serious," she said.

Scott is hoping more people will respond in removing the plant this year.

"It's not an invasive plant that grows on roadsides, it really is a private property issue," she said.

The low-growing perennial has trailing stems of fleshy blue-green alternate leaves. Flowers are inconspicuous, surrounded by yellow-green flower-like bracts that appear in early spring. The seed pods explode at maturity and can shoot the seed up to 15 feet away.

OASISS does not need reports or sightings of the plants submitted, rather they are encouraging people to remove it themselves to help stop the spread.

People should wear gloves, long sleeves and eye protection when removing the plant, and 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.

"It's that kind of it takes a village concept so the more eyes out there, the more voices out there. That's going to do us a world of good to come up with solutions to these invasive plant problems," Scott said.

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

Casey Richardson

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