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Nature's Notes: Call it a weed, but prostrate spurge is amazing

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By Marion and Rich Patterson, correspondents

Every day Corridor residents walk by or drive over one of the world’s most amazing plants, yet few people notice it.

Prostrate spurge is a ground hugging plant with tiny rounded or oblong leaves that grows as a mat up to two feet across but barely a quarter-inch tall. Usually it’s smaller and enjoys living in tiny sidewalk or road cracks. Somehow it thrives where summer sun heats asphalt to over 150 degrees and virtually nothing else lives. Although little known, this humble plant adds greenery to heavily highways, sidewalks and driveways.

Prostrate spurge is likely native to North America, where it grows in all 48 contiguous states. It enjoys living in the hot, dry, compacted soil of urban areas. Uncommon in prairies and healthy lawns, it moves right in if homeowners scalp their lawn and allow sunlight to reach bare dirt.

The plant’s secret to success is a deep taproot that finds moisture on the hottest and driest days. Prostrate spurge’s numerous flowers are inconspicuous but produce many seeds. Some wash into nearby pavement cracks to grow next summer.

Most people consider the plant a weed, but anything able to grow in such harsh places deserves admiration as it pulls carbon dioxide from the air and returns oxygen. It’s truly amazing.

l Marion Patterson is an instructor at Kirkwood. Rich Patterson is the former executive director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids.

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