Scientific name: Spergula arvensis
- Annual weed, germinating in autumn or spring
- Can be erect or sprawling, up to 30 cm tall, with leaves in whorls of about ten at each stem node
- Leaves are sticky, green, needle-shaped, blunt-tipped, up to 25 mm long and 0.5 mm wide
- Flowers are single, white, star-shaped with five petals, up to 8 mm across
- Although individual plants are small, many seedlings can emerge together, reducing crop establishment and growth
- Heavy flowering infestations can give the appearance of snow
- Tends to be most common and grows best in acid soils.
- Sand spurrey (Spergularia rubra) is similar to spurrey but is usually more prostrate. It has shorter leaves and purplish-pink flowers.
- Native to Europe, spurrey is now common and sometimes abundant throughout New Zealand as a weed of crops, gardens, roadways, paths and bare ground
- First recorded in New Zealand in 1855.
- Spurrey germinates in spring or autumn and can grow very quickly, often in very dense and extensive populations
- An annual weed found especially in newly sown pasture or in winter or early spring sown crops. The plants die after flowering and seeding
- A large individual plant can produce up to 7500 seeds. Very high populations of seed can be found in the soil in cropping areas. Seeds can live buried in the soil for several years until cultivation returns them to the surface where they can then germinate
- Seeds are able to germinate and emerge from at least 50 mm depth.
- Spurrey has in previous times been used as source of food for humans, and has also been used for making bread during times of shortage in Northern Europe
- It is generally palatable to livestock and is favoured by cattle and sheep.
- Spurrey grows throughout New Zealand and the offshore islands
- The weed has been taken by colonising Europeans to most parts of the world, and although it is prevalent in temperate areas it also occurs at higher altitudes in tropical countries.
Impacts on crops
- Spurrey can germinate in dense masses and grows quickly, swamping and shading many young crops, inhibiting establishment and stunting growth.
Impacts on pasture
- In newly-sown pasture spurrey can swamp the growth of newly-sown grasses and clovers
- Small seedlings can look similar to grass seedlings but closer examination reveals the leaves in clusters round the stem.
- Spurrey grows better in more acid soils so adding lime to raise the pH will help more desirable species to outcompete spurrey
- Spurrey seeds cannot geminate when deeply buried so regular cultivation will help to some extent. However, cultivation also brings more deeply buried seeds closer to the surface
- Once the pasture is well established spurrey does not geminate because the soil surface is shaded by the crop.
- Spurrey is not susceptible to herbicides like MCPA or MCPB that are commonly used in pasture establishment
- Basagran (Bentazone) or a basagran/MCPB mixture (for example Pulsar) give effective control in young pastures or turf
- Flumetsulam (for example Preside) is also effective in young pastures
- These materials should be applied when the spurrey is young because it becomes more resistant as it grows older
- In crops most commonly used herbicides will give adequate control.