BC sisters burned by poisonous sap of invasive plant while picking flowers

An afternoon of flower picking in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley ended in burns, blisters and swollen faces for two young girls visiting their grandparents in July.

The sisters happened to pick a spurge myrtle from their grandparents’ backyard in Fintry, about 39 kilometers north of Kelowna. It is an invasive plant whose sap can cause burning, swelling, redness and blistering, and which can be toxic if ingested.

Sandra Nimmo says she found her granddaughters with blisters on their faces the next morning and used allergy medication to treat them.

“The grandkids were fine, they laughed when they saw their faces in the mirror and it only took about a week and a half to clean their skin,” Nimmo told the Invasive Species Council of BC ( ISCBC), which then provided him with resources. for medical treatment and plant removal.

A plant with small yellow flowers and rows of leaves.
Myrtle spurge is an invasive plant popular with gardeners. In British Columbia, it is most commonly found in the Okanagan region, where it thrives in hot, dry weather. ((c) Brigitt1 | Dreamstime.com)

Invasive species are plants or animals that have been introduced into an environment, intentionally or accidentally, from other areas.

Without their natural predators, they can end up taking over an area, introducing disease and threatening biodiversity, says ISCBC, a nonprofit that helps stop the spread of invasive species in the province.

Invasive plants, in particular, can “displace native vegetation through competition for water, nutrients, and space.”

According to Executive Director Gail Wallin, 60% of invasive species, including myrtle spurge, are intentionally planted across British Columbia. Other invasive plants found in the province include Japanese knotweed, Scotch broom and giant hogweed.

Myrtle spurge, usually imported as a garden plant, is native to the Mediterranean. In British Columbia, it is most commonly found in the Okanagan region, where it thrives in hot, dry weather.

She encourages gardeners to stop planting spurge myrtle altogether.

“Let’s look for more responsible choices,” she said.

“There are many invasive plants that gardeners plant because they look exotic, beautiful, something you’ve never seen before. These are all signs that they could possibly be invasive.”

The Invasive Species Council of BC recommends that gardeners consider non-invasive plant alternatives — for example, spear-leaved stonecrop, shown here, instead of myrtle spurge. (The Invading Species Council of British Columbia)

She also suggests gardeners do their research and consider alternatives to invasive plants with the help of the council’s Grow Me Place guide.

For example, instead of myrtle spurge, the ISCBC suggests Lanceleaf Stonecrop as a non-invasive alternative.

“Before buying a new plant or swapping it with your neighbor, make sure it’s not invasive and make sure it’s actually something it’s safe to have in our gardens. .”