Sunday, 10 June 2018

Triffids - The Fair Weather Gardener

Things that I don't recognise still come up in the garden. The latest, looking like triffids, appeared in April, pushing up through the undergrowth by the pergola. Several stiff stems with dark blueish green leaves arranged regularly up the stems. I believe the term for the leaf appearance is glaucous, good word! So, glaucous leaves, stiff straight stems and once three feet high, it produced thin branches with softer bright green leaves.

My triffids were interesting looking and quite architectural so I left them for quite a while as I didn't know what they were. The soft green leaves became bracts around tiny yellow flowers, which insects seemed to like, so I continued to leave the triffids alone. Hover flies seemed especially keen on the miniscule flowers and last weekend I saw my first wasp this year, also showing great interest in the triffids.

Then the flowers began to produce large, green berries, each with three lobes. At this stage I decided I really should take them more seriously, they were about to produce seed, did I want them to spread? I'm not in principle opposed to immigrants, but the garden's quite small so invaders are another matter, I have enough trouble with hops and ground elder.

I asked a few people, posted a pic on Facebook, but nobody seemed to know. So in depth research was in order. How did people ever do this type of thing before the internet? Google is an amazing research tool, almost everything you can think of is out there, somewhere in the aether!

After a few hours going through a range of search terms and looking at hundreds of photos of plants with green leaves, I came across the euphorbias. Now I've admired euphorbias in other people's gardens, but the triffids didn't much resemble any I could remember seeing, until I saw a photo  labelled Euphorbia Lathyris. So my triffid is Euphorbia Lathyris, otherwise known as caper spurge, also known as the mole plant because it's said to repel moles - old gardener's wives tale?

Caper spurge facts - it grows over much of Europe and Asia but has probably been introduced to the UK. It's now widespread and often comes up in abandoned ground. It's a biannual so that makes sense, it like to be undisturbed. I remember seeing the stems and glaucous leaves last year, but the bed was overgrown and anyway they weren't nearly so tall, so I didn't register that they were something unusual.

The other important facts about caper spurge: when ripe the seed heads expel seeds quite explosively, scattering them far and wide. Also the berries, which are said to look like capers although I can't really see it, are very poisonous and the milky sap is also poisonous and corrosive, causing skin irritation and serious harm if it gets in your eyes. In days of yore, beggars were said to have rubbed the sap into their skin to cause sores and so get more sympathy - another old gardeners tale? 

Anyway the caper spurge is now in the bottom of a garden bin, waiting to go to the dump. I compost a lot of things but decided this toxic plant might be unsuitable. I did enjoy watching it grow and I've no doubt that there are more triffids seeds lurking in the soil, just waiting to spring up. I might once again let them grow for a couple of years before they seed, because they're interesting plants.

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