Tag Archives: petty spurge



One of our flagship deep nature gardens is called “birch corner.” It has been taking shape since late summer of 2013. With the help of some good tree work from our licensed friends and some power tools wielded by the client, we took out a dead old lawn under a big pistache tree, pruned the tree back to let in more light, and drastically limited a birch (the garden’s namesake tree) that was also stealing light from the garden area below.

The ground under the pistache was shaped into hills and valleys, and a lot of beautiful rocks were added to create a walking path and many step-able access points.

In the past year the garden has grown a wide variety of interesting plants. Some, like several varieties of blueberries, spreading patches of bidens, and yellow lantanas were deliberately planted. But many more, like the fluorescent orange zinnias, burgeoning arums, and drifts of small tree saplings emerged on their own from seeds already present in the soil.

Let’s have a look around!




Above: Viewed from the street, the right (west) side of the garden includes the namesake birch tree at the far right. At the extreme right side of the picture is a wooden fence shading that side, with a climbing rose on it. In the spring and summer this fence is also covered by sweet pea vines, deliberately planted and just now sprouting back up from last year’s dropped seeds.

In the middle of the picture are two large clumps of yellow-flowering bidens, which will soon be limited back before they take over even more space. A clump of hair grass stands at the top of a low berm, and in the back against the fence is a young apricot tree. Also visible are a few rocks and some logs slowly decaying into the ground (trimmed from the pistache tree above).

Below: A closer look at a spreading patch of bidens, with an orange zinnia peeking in at the right.








Below, a patch of cyclamen that was planted last winter near the shady base of the back fence is still thriving and blooming. The base of the apricot tree is at left. A closer look shows many little sprouts of new cyclamen. It looks like it is naturalizing nicely.






In this first year at birch corner we are still encountering a variety of vigorous volunteers that will need to be either limited or removed completely. Among these are the many sprouts of variegated arum, almost all of which will have to go.

There are two (non-chemical) ways of removing arums. The first requires patience – simply pull out all the leaves as they appear, until the tubers below run out of steam. But that method takes some persistence. In coming weeks and months we’ll use the faster approach which is to dig down and actually remove the tubers.

Below, a sampling of the arums at birch corner. Each one has its own particular pattern of leaf variegation. We’ll save a few of the most interesting ones, but they will be kept under control. Some may be moved into containers, where their invasive nature will be tamed and we can enjoy their beautiful leaves, flowers, and the seed heads with their bright red seeds.








Birch corner is a forest floor ecosystem, heavily influenced by a dense drop of leaves from the pistache tree every autumn. Those leaves contribute to a gently acidic soil type, which favors plants like the blueberry showing its fall colors in the picture below.




Here in California, autumn marks the beginning of the winter growing season. At birch corner, one sign of the coming winter is thousands of tiny sprouts of petty spurge and a few other low growing annuals. These will fill in, forming a beautiful green carpet that competes with leaves falling from above.




We leave you with a few more of the many interesting new kinds of plants coming in. How many of these can you identify?











These small erect herbs sprout up everywhere, especially in the moist winter season. They are petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus), one of three kinds of spurge (so far) found in my garden. These European natives form picturesque little stands, bloom for a while, and then fade and dry into straw-like heaps.

Euphorbias are weird but pretty plants, typically with separate male and female flowers borne in curious clusters. The “petals” of these flowers are actually modified leaves.

Almost all spurges have poisonous sap. Sometimes they make cows and other pasture animals sick. In fact, the name “spurge” comes from the same root as “purge,” which is what happens when you eat some.

Euphorbias are part of a huge, diverse genus with more than  2000 species around the world. Poinsettias are spurges. Some spurges have developed extreme tolerance to drought and aridity. Some of them actually resemble cacti. There are disputes among botanists about the complex family tree of the Euphorbias.

130308-1100In my garden there are also small low-growing plants of spotted spurge (AKA ground spurge). Unlike petty spurge, spotted spurge lies flat and seldom rises higher than the thickness of a pencil. It can form wide, spreading mats where the ground is bare and there’s enough sun.

Like other spurges, spotted spurge is poisonous. It resembles purslane, which is edible, but has succulent leaves without the purple spots. Be careful if you harvest purslane for the salad!

Not all spurges are (what some people would call) “weeds.” Some have been bred for beauty or size, appearing as prized garden plants. In my garden when I first took it over, there was a large bush of decorative spurge.

That large bush had to be removed because it was so old, and the space was needed. But over the years it had dropped some seeds, and in the spring of 2012 some of them sprouted. Here is how they looked in mid-January 2013. They are tall, bluish plants with red stems and leaves in whorls:


Now it is March, and they are blooming. The flowers are a lot more colorful than petty spurge: