There isn’t a lot going on in my garden at this time of year. It’s reached that waiting point. Waiting for something to happen. Isn’t that what we gardeners do year-round? In the winter we wait for the new year to come so we can begin starting plants indoors. Then we wait for spring to arrive. When spring gets here we wait for the sprouts to begin erupting from the soil. We keep an eye on them seemingly day and night, knowing exactly when each type of plant is supposed to come up. The spring annuals. The summer perennials. The fall flowers. We wait for the leaves on the trees and shrubs to emerge. We watch as the flowers finally begin to bloom and we continue to watch as they fade away. Then winter arrives again and we start all over. Waiting. Don’t you find that gardening takes a lot of patient waiting?
My garden is bare. There are a few plants that have remained green all winter, but they’re beginning to look a bit puny. As a matter of fact my garden looks a little sad at this point. It’s difficult to look at it and remember how it appeared last spring and summer and fall. So I decided to do the next best thing — I went through the garden photos I took last year and decided to post some of them. I guess I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. And I’m waiting.
Snow On The Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) is a slow growing, self-seeding annual. These plants have been growing in my garden for a number of years, though I’m not entirely certain where they came from! I’ve noticed several wild plots of them in some rural areas nearby, so it’s possible the seeds were carried here by birds.
Euphorbia marginata is one of the later plants to make an appearance in the garden, usually popping up when I’ve given up all hope that they’re going to return. They never seem to come up in the same location from one season to the next. I guess it depends upon which way the wind is blowing when their seeds finally decide to drop! I’ve tried to arrange these photos (these are actually a couple of different plants that I took pictures of last year) in the order of the their growth pattern.
Euphorbia marginata is a succulent plant in the spurge family, of which the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is also a member.
All parts of Euphorbia marginata are poisonous if ingested. The sap can cause a rash or burns to the skin and eyes comparable to a Latex reaction, as well as blistering of the mouth. Just handling the leaves can cause skin irritation. I’ve never had contact with the sap, and have not experienced any irritation from touching the leaves or flowers, so the plant probably affects different people in different ways.
The foliage of Euphorbia marginata is more eye-catching that its flowers. While the lower leaves of the main stem remain totally green, the leaves at the top of the plant are patterned with white margins and in some cases are almost fully white. The same can be said of the leaves surrounding flowers lower down the main stem. The plants grow to a height of 1½-3 feet and a width of about 12 inches.
In contrast to the vivid quality of the leaves, the flowers are inconspicuous and easy to overlook. The small greenish-white clusters of blossoms seem to get lost in the deep green and white of the surrounding foliage. But if you inspect them closely you’ll find that they’re quite pretty.
Snow On The Mountain blooms from mid-summer through fall. It’s always one of the last flowers standing in my garden.
Seed capsules form as the blooms begin to dry and fall off. They’re a little bigger than a large pin-head and somewhat irregularly round. Each capsule contains three seeds. The capsules remain green for quite a while before slowly browning and falling off.
Euphorbia marginata is very drought tolerant. It will withstand extreme heat with only moderate watering and will grow in complete sun to partial shade.
This plant was first noted by the Lewis and Clark Expedition along the Yellowstone River in Montana. It is a Texas native.
Other common names for Euphorbia marginata are Ghostweed, Kilimanjaro, Snow Top, Summer Icicle, Smoke on the Prairie, Variegated Spurge, Whitemargined Spurge and Mountain Spurge.
Every year this vine comes up in my garden. And every year I tear it out of the ground. Again. And again. Up until this point I didn’t know what it was and I really didn’t care. I just wanted it to be gone, because it climbed over, around, under and through every other plant or object that happened to be in the near vicinity. It’s quite a tenacious plant, and I guess that tenacity is what made me finally decide to find out exactly what it is.
It turns out this plant is Smilax bona-nox, a vine in the Smilacaceae family. Some of its common names are saw greenbrier, cowvine and catbrier — I guess due to the prickles on the leaves and the thorns on the vine itself. It is a perennial vine which can reach a length of 20-30 feet and grows in areas of full sun to full shade. It blooms in late winter to early spring, forms a fruit of tiny black berries, is evergreen and can be considered noxious or invasive. Apparently most parts of the plant are edible. Mine have never been around long enough to form a flower, create a berry or be eaten!
After reading about this plant I’m wondering if I might be missing out on something by constantly pulling up the vines. According to Wikipedia:
“The fruits of this plant provide food for many species of animals, including many birds. The dense, prickly thickets make good cover for small animals.
Native Americans found several uses for the plant. The Muscogee people (also known as the Creek people) rubbed the moistened plant on their faces to enhance youthfulness, and the Comanche people used the leaves for cigarette wrappers. The Houma people of Louisiana used Smilax bona-nox roots to treat urinary tract infections and to make bread and cake.”
Hmmm. I like the fact that it provides food for wildlife. Anything that does that can’t be all bad. The “youthfulness” factor sounds promising, but I don’t think I want to rub my face with it. And I don’t smoke so I don’t guess I’ll be using the leaves for that! I’m also quite positive I don’t want to eat anything that might be known as a “cowvine cake”. On the other hand, Smilax bona-nox is a Texas native, which is a good thing. I guess. So, all that being said, I think maybe I’ll leave the vine in place this year and see what happens. I might be sorry later, but I’ll try any plant once!
Does anyone have anything positive to say about saw greenbrier?