10 May 2016
The smell of this plant reminds me of warblers.
Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is a 4″-31″ tall perennial with narrow leaves and green-yellow flowers that bloom from March to September. It was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental in the 1860s and often planted in cemeteries where it earned the nickname “graveyard weed.” Its introduction was a terrible idea for a number of reasons:
- The entire plant contains a toxic latex that irritates skin and eyes and is poisonous to many animals. It can be fatal to cattle, though sheep can eat it.
- It spreads via roots and explosive seed pods. If a farmer plows a field containing a bit of cypress spurge, his equipment will carry cut rootlets to other fields where it will take hold.
- The plant is very invasive, forming almost pure stands. It has no enemies in the Western Hemisphere so scientists had to import a few insects that eat it.
Cypress spurge thrives in sandy soil so it’s no surprise that it grows at Presque Isle State Park, crowding out native lupine and puccoon. During warbler migration its scent is on the wind. I don’t like the smell but I’ve had so many great birding experiences at Presque Isle in May that my brain automatically thinks of warblers when I smell it.
Fortunately the sick-sweet scent brings back happy memories for me. For those who mourn a loved one in the presence of “graveyard weed” the smell probably makes them sad.
Is there a smell that reminds you of birding?
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)