NDSU Extension - Griggs County

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June 22

The Extension Connection

By Megan Vig

Ditches provide an advantageous area for weed escapes.  One of those weeds you may notice in ditches or pastures is leafy spurge.  Leafy spurge is a long-lived perennial that normally grows 2 to 3 feet tall from a woody crown beneath the soil.  Stems originating from crown buds and roots begin growth in late April, making leafy spurge one of the first plants to emerge in the spring.  The early and rapid growth gives the plant a competitive advantage over other plants.  All parts of this plant contain a milky juice called latex, which is poisonous to some animals and can cause skin irritation.  Due to its nature, leafy spurge is one of 11 North Dakota noxious weeds. 

                Leafy spurge causes significant problems in the northern Great Plains by invading grazing lands for cattle and horses, reducing rangeland productivity and plant diversity, degrading wildlife habitat, displacing sensitive species and drastically reducing land values.   Leafy spurge is an exotic species, a native of Eurasia where it was controlled by natural enemies.  With a head start of more than 100 years before control efforts were initiated in the Great Plains, leafy spurge is a stubborn opponent that makes management difficult.

                Biological control efforts have been made over the years to control leafy spurge.  Farmers and land owners can use leafy spurge flea beetles (Aphthona species) for biocontrol of leafy spurge.  Adult Aphthona flea beetles feed on leafy spurge foliage causing severe defoliation on the leaves and on the roots as larvae.  The larval root feeding injury causes the major damage to water and nutrient uptake, and storage, impacting the plant twice. These flea beetles are host-specific to the leafy spurge plant, which makes them an ideal biological control choice.  There are limitations to flea beetles.  The insect moves by jumping and so traveling to a new area is impossible on their own.  Therefore collecting flea beetles from one area and transporting to a new infested area is key.  Collection of flea beetles is based upon growing degree days.  Scouting for flea beetles should begin when the sunflower accumulated growing degree days (AGDD) approaches 1,000.  Flea beetles should be collected between 1,200 and 1,600 AGDD with the use of sweep nets. 

 If you are looking for biological control of leafy spurge, North Dakota Department of Agriculture is co-hosting a leafy spurge flea beetle collection field day with Stutsman County Weed Board on Thursday, June 28th.  Interested persons should meet at 11 am at 1508 4th St NW, Jamestown.  Attendees should bring a cooler with ice packs to transport flea beetles back with them and if possible, to bring a sweep net.

Several options are available for leafy spurge control besides biological control agents, including use of herbicides, grazing, seeding competitive grasses and cultivation.  Consider the best options suited for your situation and utilize more than one.   Most successful control programs have multiple control methods combined over several years.

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