Taking toxins with my joys.

Gardening has been  challenge of late, what with miserable weather, a sprained finger, and now the toxic latex sap of my euphorbia, or spurge.

I had a wonderfully satisfying day yesterday – went swimming, planted my vegetables, and then trimmed back the lovely euphorbia that had been flowing all over the wall in my front garden. I had done this job at least twice before, but the volume of plant material that I was removing this time was so much more than in previous years — in line with the saying about new landscaping: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it LEAPS! The picture below is from about a month ago, before my spurge had completed the leap, when it was just starting to spill prettily over the wall.

As I cut the spent flower stems last night I noticed the flowing sap, and it reminded me of Elmer’s glue, white and sticky, as it dripped on my shoes and hands. I had a splint bandaged to my sprained right forefinger to keep me from using it, and the bandage got wet with euphorbia juice. When I dumped clippings from my trug into the yard waste bin little flowers and leaves stayed behind, stuck with the glue.

After I finished the job and spent a long time getting the stuff off my hands, I took a little walk just to loosen up the kinks from stooping over my garden tasks. I climbed into bed so pleased at my productive day.

This morning early I became aware of a rash on my left hand, then on my forearms, then my right hand…my face…eventually my neck. My tongue burned. A thought began to rise to the surface of my messy pond of a mind: Hey, did I hear that this plant is poisonous? Ahem, yes, Gretchen, you did!!

Dave of Dave’s Garden doesn’t think these plants are much to worry about, compared to poison oak, for example. But The Guardian says that one berry if ingested can kill a child. Wikipedia tells us that the genus Euphorbia has about 2,000 members. You probably knew that poinsettia is a member? And maybe you heard the urban legend from 1919 ! that a child died after eating a poinsettia leaf. But the Christmas plant is only mildly toxic, after all, and a child would have to eat about 500 leaves to suffer for it.

Why I didn’t suffer until this third time is probably because of several factors: I wasn’t wearing gloves — though I was wearing long sleeves, so I don’t understand about my forearms being so affected. I’m pretty sure I cut the old stems off in a greener, wetter stage than before, so maybe the sap was more and more potent. Then there was the sheer quantity of plant matter being carried here and there, dumped, swept up…

I took a Benadryl, I applied hydrocortisone and aloe vera. I haven’t felt up to going anywhere, distracted and stressed as all this reaction has made me. But I wasn’t incapacitated, either, so I decided to tackle the snowball bush. I had thought for months that I would hire someone to prune it as soon as the flowers faded, but recently I decided to Do It Myself, because you know, if you want a job done right…? I’ve had two different “gardeners” botch jobs in the last couple of years, while I, on the other hand, have pruned the snowball bush many times over the last three decades. Though admittedly never at the age I am now.

Below you can see the bush,  beyond everything else, the left side short, the right side thinned but not short yet. And you can see the purple Pride of Madeira or echium having filled out, a few of my prunings in a pile, and the Jerusalem Sage blooming yellow..

I worked at it a couple of hours, never needing a ladder, and I am about 80% done — with the pruning. Getting all of the discards into the yard waste bin will take a few weeks, I’m pretty sure.

It made me so happy to be doing my own gardening. I was smack dab next to the currant with its big leaves that smell so good. The snowball bush (viburnum) hadn’t been pruned for a few years, so it had gotten out of hand. My plan is to get it down to a manageable size and prune it every year, and then it will be a breeze!

Tonight I’ll go to bed joyful again.

15 thoughts on “Taking toxins with my joys.

  1. Oh dear! Sorry about the reaction to the Euphorbia sap. I had heard of the possible reaction but since the only Spurge I’ve grown is the cushion spurge I haven’t had any problem, That one is short and has little if any sap.

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  2. Oh my, how awful for you having that reaction from the sap. Will you be taking the plant out of your garden?

    Like you, I feel good when I can still do things myself.

    Love & hugs dear Gretchen ~ FlowerLady

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  3. I’ve read about euphorbia’s toxicity, but have never encountered it myself. I do wonder about the timing of the trimming on its effects. I’m glad you are feeling better. I also wonder if reactions intensify over time and the next time might be worse.
    A viburnum is on my wishlist of plants, but alas, I don’t know where to put one.

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  4. You amaze with your gardening skill…produces such beauty too.
    I like to garden in the kitchen herb garden and in the potted plants, but we have little itty bitty ticks here that burrow into your skin and makes getting into most of the yard gardening no fun. And yes, poison ivy appears every year too!

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  5. Oh no! Rashes are NO FUN!
    Keep up the gardening. I have a cough/cold bug that is keeping me on the sofa, but the sunshine is gorgeous and I need to plant seeds!

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  6. I am not sure why once spring fever hits in the garden there is no stopping! We have been having the loveliest spring in the Prairie. We have even had soaking rains and no tornadoes! The bird seed is sprouting like crazy and I just can’t stop! Praise God!

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  7. We have a spurge in our area called “Leafy Spurge” and it is considered a noxious weed that really spreads. The flower looks like your Euphorbia but not the plant itself. I hope the sap rash doesn’t overwhelm you too much. Does it itch? Like poison ivy? Have you ever tried putting some crushed plantain leaves (the weed that grows in lawns, not banana type) on your rash? It’s supposed to really help with poison ivy and other skin irritations.

    Your gardens look absolutely stunning. From small stems and tiny plants to giant trees and shrubs. What fun to see it change and grown.

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    1. Jody,
      A friend suggested aloe vera, which I had forgotten about – I had some AV juice in my fridge so I have used it a few times now when the rash starts to burn or itch a lot. It really helps! It was fairly calmed down this morning, enough that I wanted to go to church for Ascension 🙂 and then got very itchy again later. The blisters are gone; it seems that the aloe vera dries it out… In our area poison oak is the common plant irritant and some of my family suffer terribly when their dogs bring it home, etc. But I must be immune to poison oak, because I’ve never had the rash, in spite of encounters my parents tell me about that happened when I was small, and this is my first-ever nasty encounter with plant toxins!
      Thank you for the plaintain tip. I think Mary Kathryn has made salve with that herb, am I right?

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  8. I am so sorry Gretchen. I did not know that there were those kind of toxins in things like that. I hope you feel better now. I just thought there was only Poison ivy and poison oak.
    I hope you are feeling much better now.

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  9. Your yard is lovely! Sorry to read about your reaction to the spurge. We have it wild here, but I have never tried to do anything with it. Take care!

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  10. That sounds exhausting, GJ! I’m amazed that you were able to do all that pruning the next day, after your allergic reaction. It sounds rather severe. I’m so glad you didn’t ingest any! I bet you will not forget again 🙂 Well, congrats on jobs well done, and the good satisfaction of putting your hands in your own soil.

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  11. oh dear! well, I read your later post and your did your snowball plant! well done! I do hope you are feeling better…!!! Lord have mercy!!! I enjoy your posts; things have been busy/intense on my end so I am behind even on my most loved blogs that I read, including yours! God bless you and comfort you in all things!!!

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  12. We have a couple of native euphorbias here, with the delightful names of snow on the mountain and snow on the prairie. They have a white, latex-like sap, too, but I’ve never had to content with it because I don’t do anything around those plants but admire them and photograph them. I’m glad you’re recovering well — starting with a current post and working backwards always makes me feel like a seer!

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