Posts Tagged: Chris McDonald
UC Master Gardener Francie Murphy was pruning the succulents in her San Diego front yard when an unfortunate accident catalyzed her commitment to communicating the dangers of toxic plants. She trimmed a stem on her drought-tolerant pencil milk bush and milky sap spurted into one eye, causing stinging pain.
“I tried to wipe it out, and in doing so got in both eyes. I was blinded. The pain was unbelievable,” she said.
A nearby friend rushed her to the emergency room where the doctor diagnosed chemical burns to her corneas and washed her eyes with two liters of saline water each. Murphy removed the plant from her garden, but saw it growing throughout her community.
“I knew we had to do something,” she said.
Drought-tolerant plants like cacti, yucca, agaves and aloes have adaptations to protect themselves from wildlife in search of the moisture within their leaves and stems. They have spikes or spines to ward off people and animals. Other plants don't have outward signs of danger. Fire sticks, also known as sticks on fire and pencil cactus and by its scientific name Euphorbia tirucalli, is a very popular succulent in frost-free areas. Its vertical growth habit and showy soft green to reddish-gold stems make it a striking landscape specimen. A native of southern Africa, the smooth, coral-like stems look deceptively harmless. The sap is toxic.
“Fire sticks should be planted far from walkways, in the back of the landscape, where you can see them, but not touch them,” said UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor Chris McDonald. “When trimming the plant, wear long pants, long sleeves and eye protection. If the plant is tall, consider protecting your face.”
After Murphy shared her story about these plants with other Master Gardeners, UCCE San Diego gathered a team and worked with colleagues to secure funding from the County of San Diego to develop a website and handouts to inform the community about readily available yet toxic drought-tolerant plants being planted into California landscapes.
The handout can be downloaded from the Plant Safely website (https://ucanr.edu/sites/PlantSafely/). The materials were quickly distributed to nurseries, garden events and Master Gardener help booths, such as at farmers markets, home shows and fairs, and other educational events. A key feature of the website is a database of nearly 100 plants (which can be found here) with photos and descriptions that explain how they are unsafe and how they can be used safely in the landscape. (https://ucanr.edu/sites/PlantSafely/Common_Names/)
Some common yet toxic landscape plants included in the database are:
“These potentially harmful plants are grown widely in many parts of California,” McDonald said. “It's important to promote drought-tolerant landscapes, and we must also do it in a way that preserves public health.”
View the UC Master Gardener video about safely planting fire sticks (Euphorbia tirucoli):
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced today (Dec. 4) that a Stop Use notice and statewide quarantine have been issued for the organic fertilizer product AGRO GOLD WS to all organic operations registered in California.
Residents who use the product in their gardens or landscapes should also be aware the product may contain weed killers, said Chris McDonald, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor.
"Home gardeners should not use the organic biological amendment Agro Gold WS, which is commonly sold as a bundled package with the organic herbicide Weed Slayer," said McDonald. "CDFA has found Agro Gold WS to have been adulterated with the herbicides glyphosate and diquat, which may kill your plants."
He advises home gardeners to read the CDFA press release at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/egov/press_releases/Press_Release.asp?PRnum=20-173 for more information.
UC Cooperative Extension is testing methods of removing Sahara mustard, including hand weeding, hoes and herbicide. But these are only stopgap measures meant to keep the plant at bay in select spots.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to spray the herbicide across the entire Southwest,” said Chris McDonald, UCCE advisor in San Bernardino County. “But the idea is preserving areas of value, such as the wildflower fields of Borrego Springs.”
Sahara mustard has been in California since 1927, but it wasn't until Hurricane Kathleen doused California in 1976 that it proliferated widely, according to Rich Minnich, professor in the Department of Geography at UC Riverside.
“There was this gigantic explosion of mustard, and it’s never been the same since,” Minnich said.
Anza-Borrego's tough eradication project: Cutting the mustard
Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
A front-page story in the Los Angeles Times detailed the changing attractions in Borrego Springs. Tourists used to come to see a colorful display of wildflowers, but because of an invasive weed, Sahara mustard, local officials are now trying to turn visitors attention to hiking, cycling, star gazing and photography instead. UCCE's Chris McDonald, who is conducting research on Sahara mustard control, was featured in four of the nine photos that accompanied the story.
Nutgrass: Three experts' solutions to one of the worst weeds
L.A. at Home blog, Los Angeles Times
Nutsedge is commonly considered a gardeners' worst enemy, which is further proven by the draconian measures to control the weed offered by UC and other experts in the L.A. at Home blog this week. In the introduction to the problem, Cheryl Wilen, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, notes there are two kinds of nutsedge. One way to tell them apart takes a little courage.
"If you are inclined to bite into one," she said, "yellow nutsedge has a pleasant almond or brazilnut taste, while purple nutsedge does not have a good flavor."
Controlling either kind is challenging. Yvonne Savio, UCCE manager of the L.A. County common ground program, suggests extricating the weed in a way that may seem extreme.
Dig 6 inches around and under each weed and throw the weed and dug up soil into the garbage. "Don't even think of composting the weed or filtering the soil through a screen," Savio said. The weeds will come back.