07 September 2016

Snow on the Mountain

Snow on the Mountain

Becky Emerson Carlberg

We all are familiar with the brilliant poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) that arrive during the Yule season.  Red, white, pink, purple, yellow, orange and salmon ….poinsettias now come in a palette of colors you can coordinate with the color scheme of your front room.  The colorful “flowers” are actually modified leaves, and the tiny yellow buds in the center are the flowers.  The native range of this member of the Spurge/Euphorbiaceae family is Mexico and Central America.  The growth form varies from shrubs to small trees twelve feet tall.

We have our own native home-grown variety of poinsettia that goes by the imaginative name of Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata). Other names for this plant are Mountain Snow, Ghost Spurge, and Ghost Weed.  Its’ original range was throughout the central USA into eastern Canada, but the Snow Ghost has expanded into other states quite happily.  Somehow the plant escaped into southeast Europe and has even become naturalized in China.  I found one enterprising Chinese site on Google that advertised the ghost euphorbia seeds. Big promotion…fifty seeds for $0.80.   They classified it as a novel bonsai plant that blooms in the summer, applicable to the constellation Pisces, and will be very happy to settle into your home.  At the end of the sale, the company wishes you a happy shopping journey.  Hey, this is one way to deal with an invasive.  Sell the seeds and make money.  Let me think about this…..

Pastures, prairies, and the sides of roads are places the snow ghost can be found growing, but since it is an annual, it moves around from year to year.  Wet or dry, it tolerates many different well-drained soils and likes the sun. The Snow-on-the-Mountain can work well as a cut plant in arrangements. The ‘flowers’ are known to last a long time. Beware of the milky sap, as it can be an irritant to some people’s skin and especially be careful to not get the sap in the eyes. Wash your hands after handling the plant.

Along the Fence

Along the Fence

Snow Ghosts cultivated for floral presentations can be spaced twelve inches apart.  The first shoots are pinched back to force the plant to branch and make long stems.  If a plant with many branches is the goal, then the plants are spaced two to three feet apart.  The eye-catching Snow can grow four feet high and nearly as wide.  It forms seed capsules and, when ripe, the seeds practically explode from their housing.  This is the reason so many Snow-on-the-Mountains in the field grow in clusters.  Imagine a proud mother being there in the middle of her offspring the year before.

In the garden, along the border, in a pot or broadcast into the bed, seeds can be sown in spring after the soil has warmed up.  They will germinate in two to three weeks. Now is the time to locate your patch of Snow Ghosts and monitor the seed development.  When the time is ripe, a tap on the seed capsule will let you know if the seeds are ready to fly or they need a little more time to mature.  Another plant, Impatiens, also forcefully expel their seeds far away when the time is right. Probably why that plant is also known as ‘Touch-me-not.’   It’s a cool plant trick to get those kids away from home.