Eastern Forest Threat Center - Leafy Spurge

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Leafy spurge

Leafy spurge

William Ciesla, Forest Health Management International, Bugwood.org

Leafy Spurge
Euphorbia esula

Leafy spurge is native to the Caucasus region of western Asia. It is believed to have entered North America as a seed impurity in 1827.

Keywords: Euphorbiaceae, perennial, herb, sticky sap, yellow flower bracts, explosive seed capsules, woody root network, plant toxins; Common names: wolf's milk

Distribution Map Distribution Source Image

Threat Description

Leafy spurge is an erect, branching, perennial herb growing 2 to 3½ ft. tall. Its smooth stems frequently occur in clusters from a vertical root. Milky white, sticky sap seeps from the plant when cut. Leaves are small and oval to lance-shaped. Small flowers are borne in greenish yellow structures surrounded by yellow bracts. Gray-brown oblong seeds are produced in three-celled capsules that open explosively, dispersing seeds up to 15 ft. from the parent plant that may be carried farther by water and wildlife. Its complex root system forms tough woody networks that can reach 15 or more ft. into the ground. Leafy spurge can spread vegetatively at a rate of several feet per year. It tolerates moist to dry soil conditions, but is most aggressive under dry conditions where competition from native plants is reduced. It is capable of invading disturbed sites, including prairies, savannas, pastures, abandoned fields, and roadside areas. It displaces native vegetation by shading, usurping available water and nutrients, and through plant toxins that prevent the growth of other plants underneath it. Leafy spurge is an aggressive invader that can completely overtake large areas of open land.