A Day in My Life: the Ruellia Wars. (Or My Fight with Ruellia blechum, the Green Shrimp Plant)

     Sometimes I think it’s easy to lose your mind.  It doesn’t take much, just a minor mishap, maybe a few small debacles, or just one calamity. Adversities, tribulations, or Covid-19 shelter-in-place can also take their toll, but they have not been the cause of my predicament and hopefully my situation is only temporary. 

I have been spending an insanely large amount of time out in my yard. Not because of Covid-19, but because I am waging war, a war with a beastly, invasive plant that has  given me an unsightly rash.

All I was doing was nonchalantly mowing the lawn one very hot morning, doing my husband a big favor. How was I supposed to know what was growing there among the weeds? I didn’t notice anything unusual before or after I mowed, and then I got this ugly, itching splotch just above my ankle.

Now I firmly believe that if you have an itch, you should scratch it – at  least until it grows bigger.  When the red  itchy spot expanded to the size of a golf ball, I went to a dermatologist who prescribed a cortisone cream. The patch continued to grow and expand. It reddened more, it looked angry like my husband when he’s having a high blood pressure fit.  It flourished.

I went back to the dermatologist. More topical creams… my bathroom counter was beginning to look like a pharmacy.  I considered giving the rashy patch a name. And then another patch appeared on my other leg – just above the ankle.  I was worried, it was scary. And the splotch scared other people, too– which in itself was not a bad thing. 

My dermatologist (actually there was more than one)  said it was a “contact” dermatitis and because I scratched, it was spreading. (So…scratching is not a good thing after all. Especially if you have a rash that is trying to crawl up your leg!)

It was on Day 56 that I finally identified the plant causing my allergy.  When I realized every contact with a specific weed made my rash redden, blister, peel, and ooze, I knew.   By then the plant was all over my yard (a big one) and knee high.

I had to get rid of the plant that caused it.  I have tentatively identified the plant as the Green Shrimp Plant.  It is common to South Florida, very invasive, and very prolific.  I decided to remove the plant by hand, that is, pull it out with the roots intact.  No chemicals, I didn’t want to poison the wildlife in my yard and I couldn’t mow because that would scatter it everywhere.

So innocent looking…

I went back to the dermatologist who then recommended a $700 tube of a non-corticoid prescriptive ointment.  There was no change in the rash but I did get another huge rash everywhere else I put that expensive stuff. I did get rid of that rash – after 12 days of Zyrtec and Prednisone.  The dermatologist and I decided that I now have more than one skin allergy. Her photo collection of my rashes is turning into a photo album.

I learned more about this awful invasive plant.  It is described as trailing, -whatever that means, I suspect it is synonymous with stalker- and annual or perennial, which probably means it lives in your yard forever. It’s also described as less than 50cm tall with erect flower shoots. Its flowers are pretty inflorescences that dump their seeds all over the yard (wind dispersal).  I bet the flowers even have little trebuchets inside them so they can blast their seeds everywhere, maybe even clear to Tijuana.

Day 167: I am still pulling the adult plants out by hand and by the roots. No herbicide. Just a lot of patience and itching.  I wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves and boots when I go out into the yard.  I am thinking maybe I should add a face guard and waders. My next-door neighbor thinks I am protecting myself from Coronavirus.  She shouts to me from her yard several hundred feet away: “Hey! Why are you wearing all that? You’re all by yourself!’

One flower of so many – making soldiers for the onslaught.

This plant is so aggressive, it rolls in like a tide. After every rain, its seedlings appear by the thousands. I will continue to refuse to use herbicides.  Herbicides scare the daylights out of me and they’ll kill everything else while mutating cells in your own body.  I don’t want to get cancer.  I want to live to a 100 and  make my daughter miserable.

Day 200:  I eliminated (by hand) most of the adult growth but new growth is continually appearing at previously denuded sites.  I am considering use of a flame thrower. I may try to buy one from Elon Musk.  I heard he was selling Boring Company Flame Throwers and was even throwing in a complimentary fire extinguisher. Or maybe I should incinerate the entire yard with a Livens. That could torch the lot next door and my neighbor’s yard too – to keep out any more of the little bastard plants- but I will have to hide it from my husband.

Day 230 : I still have the rash.  I pull seedlings by the thousands.  If I allow them to grow, I’ll never be able to walk in my own yard – without boots or waders.  Maybe I should buy a condominium.

Day300:  Today I spotted two big stealth plants with inflorescences. Hiding.  They snuck in under some shrubs by the fence. They have been spewing seeds and pollen everywhere. More seedlings…

Day 350: I still have the rash and use at least three different corticoid topical applications.  It reddens and fades and then reddens again. But it doesn’t go away.  I think my dermatologists are glad when I leave.  They try to be optimistic at the end of each visit, but they and I know it’s not going anywhere. At least we have confined it and it hasn’t spread anywhere else.  If only this were only a psychosomatic problem, I could go to a shrink.

Seedlings – scazillions of them, an army on the rise.

I have searched the Internet for information on this nasty, invasive plant.  It is so duplicitous.  It is pretty, healthy, looks like a very nice, a natural ground cover.  There is a garden nursery on the Internet that sells it, but they have a danger warning on it about skin irritations and allergic reactions.  How well I know, I could write about it.

Addendum: Maggie Millus  can currently be observed out in her yard attacking this abominable, invasive weed that has given her a most unsightly and bothersome rash.  When she has removed this despicable plant and its 20,000+ obnoxious progeny, she shall resume writing.

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