This weed is the flattest that a weed can be and still be above ground. It uses this feature as camouflage. Its ¼ inch long and ⅛ inch wide leaves are a dark, dusky green that pretends to be shadows on the ground. Until, one day, you discover a thriving mat of weed. Even if there are no other plants around it and it is growing in a crack between pavers, it seems to be invisible until its mat is at least 4 inches in diameter.
I had a hard time identifying this weed. What finally gave it away was the milky sap when I broke a stem. But it is interesting to me that in all the years of pulling and handling this weed, I don’t recall a stem breaking. This is evidence of how toughly fibrous all the stems and roots are.
Here are other interesting facts about the weed:
- Nothing eats it.
- The sap is possibly toxic enough to cause blindness if it gets in the eyes.
- It is an annual that doesn’t germinate readily until warmer weather, so pre-emergents are often applied too soon to stop it. (Most pre-emergents work only for 8-10 weeks and are spread in early spring.)
- Each plant can produce a full crop of several thousand seeds in 5 weeks.
- The flowers are so non-descript as to be thought absent, so it is easy to accidentally miss flowering and let it go to seed.
- There are 12 weed species of spurge that are all very similar, varying as little as having a tiny spot on the leaves (Spotted spurge is what I found the most photos of, but was not what was in my yard.)
Once a plant of spurge is established, it tends to block the growth of anything else under its mat. However, it is not difficult to pull. Its single root, with a few hairy off-shoots, does not go deep and easily releases its grip on the soil. Herbicides are said to be effective on it up until it matures, at which time it toughens up and resists.
Although I have to give a grim chuckle every time it is “strongly recommended that [insert weed name] not be allowed to go to seed”, I may be newly motivated to pull this weed now that I know how short its life cycle is and how many seeds it produces. It is like the rabbit of weeds! Short gestation and lots of weedlets.