Discover Life

Euphorbia L.

Euphorbia pubentissimaW.H.Duncun
False Flowering Spurge Photo courtesy of UGA Herbarium
Discover Life | Flora & Fauna | Plants | Euphorbiaceae | Euphorbia


Euphorbia is a genera of the Euphorbiaceae family, known collectively as the Spurge family. This genera consists of very succulent cactus-like shrubs or trees, that have angled or ribbed spine-armed jointed stems and branches. The leaves are small or minute, often scale-like, fleshy, early deciduous, or obsolete(Small 1933). The Euphorbiaceae family is very large, and consists of about 250 genera. Euphorbia is one of over four thousand species. The plants can exist as either shrubs, herbs or trees, and is distributed widely geographically. Some species of Euphorbia yield edible fruit and nuts, and many are used medicinally. A common characteristic of Euphorbia is the production of a milky-looking sap that the stems and leaves secrete (Hausman 1947). The flowers of Euphorbia are monoecious, destitute of calyx and corolla; the single pistillate, and several monandrous staminate ones included in a cup- shaped or top-shaped 4 - 5-toothed involucre, which has commonly thick and often colored glands between the teeth. The genus is polymorphous, with acrid, milky juice(Chapman 1897). The tiny flowers are clustered, and the clusters themselves resemble flowers. The fruit is three- lobed and three-seeded. The fruit extends from a single stalk that extends from the cup-like flower structure. Euphorbia can be enountered in old fields, open woods, roadsides, waste areas, and around homes as cultivated or escaped plantings. Some are housplants(vet purdue 1999). There is a moderate toxicity rating associated with the Spurges. They are highly unpalatable, and are rarely consumed in quanitites sufficient to cause serious toxicity, but are very irritating on contact. Any animal that comes in contact with the sap any part of Euphorbia may become affected. If affected by the plant, some signs of toxicity include gastrointestinal irritation, dermal and ocular irritation, poor doer, and weakness. The sap of Spurges is highly irritating on contact, especially to the eyes and mouth. Irritation, swelling and pain will result from exposure, and more serious blistering; and open sores can also occur. Symptoms of infection usually last from 12 to 24 hours. Some of the Euphorbia have been used as a chemical cattle brand. Because Euphorbia is often found in grassy field, where livestock often feed, it is important to monitor pastures. Animals should not be pastured where spurges grow. Care should also be taken when providing processed feed to avoid the consumption of the plant.

Other websites related to Euphorbia:

Genus Euphorbia L. - Flowering Spurge, Cypress Spurge, Milk-purlsane Candelilla
Family Euphorbiaceae - Spurge Family (annual or perennial, laticiferous, herbs, trees, or shrubs
Subgenus 1 Poinsettia - Monoecious annual, or further south perennial and often woody
Subgenus 2 Esula - Perennial or annual, glabrous herbs. Leaves entire or serrate
Subgenus 3 Agaloma - Annual or perennial herbs, principal stem leaves alternate
Subgenus 4 Chamaesyce - Annual in our area, or rare individuals overwintering as weak perennials, prostrate or erect plants from a tap root

Discover Life | Flora & Fauna | Plants | Euphorbiaceae | Euphorbia

Species List
Euphorbia dentata Michaux - Poinsetta dentata
Euphorbia pubentissima Michaux
(= Euphorbia corolatta L. misapplied Clewell)
- (False Flowering Spurge
Euphorbia heterophylla L. - Painted Leaf Poinsettia
Euphorbia obtusata Pursh
Euphorbia helioscopia L.
Euphorbia commutus Engelm - Wood Spurge
Euphorbia cyparissias L. - Cypress Spurge
Euphorbia purpurea (Raf.) Fernald
Euphorbia lathyris L. - Caper Spurge, Mole Plant
Euphorbia marginata Pursh - Snow-on-the-Mountain
Euphorbia ipecacuanhae L. - Carolina Ipecac
Euphorbia curtisii Engelm
Euphorbia gracilior Cronquist
Euphorbia corollata L. - Flowering Spurge
Euphorbia supina Raf.
Euphorbia chamaesyce L.
Euphorbia ammanniodes HBK.
Euphorbia polygonifolia L.
Euphorbia cordifolia Ell.
Euphorbia maculata L.
Euphorbia hirta L.

This list is based on Radford et al. (1968), who recognize 20 species of Euphorbia in the Carolinas. E. corollataL. is the true name ofE. pubentissima, which was misnamed by Michaux

Discover Life | Flora & Fauna | Plants | Euphorbiaceae | Euphorbia


Euphorbia species are found throughout the world. Some species are widespread, others rare and localized. Locally, some species of Euphorbia are known as baby's breath, and are quite common. E. corollata L. is one of the most widely distributed species, and grows up to three feet tall. Many small, white flowers are found on a open panicle that grows from a smooth stem. It has small whitish-green leaves that are whorled at the base; they are alternate and rather closely set at the base of the stem. E. corollata prefers dry ground(Dorman 1934). Another species found in the Smokey Mountains is E. cyparissias L. This plant is an obnoxious garden weed that has escaped cultivation. It has dull, greenish yellow flowers that resemble 4 cresent-shaped glands. It has whorled and alternate leaves. It is often called Graveyard weed and Welcome-to-our-house. The habitat where E. corollata is most-often found is roadsides or waste places(Hausman 1947). Other species found throughout the Smokey Mountains are Milk Purslane or Spotted Spurge (E. maculata), Upright Spurge (E. Preslii), and Snow-on-the-Mountain(E. marginata). According to H. L. Blomquist and H. J. Oosting, Euphorbia maculata and Euphorbia Preslii E. paniculata is rare. Euphorbia corollata is the most common of all in the Peidmont of North Carolina. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, E. pubentissima has also been documented (GSMNP checklists, as of May, 1999).


This page was built by Jessica Jones ,Biology Major, Ecology student, University of Georgia, Athens. Last revised 7 June, 1999.


Discover Life | Flora & Fauna | Plants | Euphorbiaceae | Euphorbia