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Leafy spurge

Quick facts

Leafy spurge is an invasive species.

  • Leafy spurge is tolerant of a wide range of conditions, from dry to moist and sunny to shade.
  • It is found in roadsides and non-cropland disturbed environments.
  • Very aggressive in dry soils where there is less native plant competition.
  • It displaces native plants in moist to dry prairies and savannas.
  • Milky sap is toxic to livestock.

Leafy spurge should be reported. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provides detailed recommendations for reporting invasive species.

Leafy spurge plant growing in the grass

How to identify leafy spurge

  • Perennial herbaceous plant, two to four feet tall.
  • Stems, flowers and leaves emit a white milky sap when broken.

Stem

  • Erect, smooth stems branch at the top.

Leaves

  • On the lower part of the stem, one to four inch leaves are smooth and lance shaped; more ovate near flower.

Flowers

  • Small, showy, yellow-green bracts open in late May.
  • Forms umbrella-shaped flower clusters with seven to ten flowers at the top of each stem; single, stemmed flowers grow from leaf axils below.
  • Blooms June to fall.

Fruit 

  • Three-lobed green capsule about one eighth of an inch diameter.

  • The fruit is covered in minute bumps, giving a grainy texture; each lobe contains a single seed.

Seeds

  • Oval-elliptic, two to three mm long, pale to dark brown or yellow-brown with a distinct seam down one side and a fleshy appendage near attachment to stalk.
  • Three-lobed brown-mottled capsule.
  • Explosive dispersal from a seed capsule up to 20 feet; high germination rate
  • Seeds survive in the soil for ten years.

Roots

  • Extensive, deep root system.
  • Vegetative reproduction from crown and root buds.

     

    Leafy spurge stem and leaves on blue background
    Leafy spurge
    Close up of green leafy spurge flower
    Leafy spurge

 

Angela Gupta, Extension educator; Amy Rager, Extension educator; Megan M. Weber, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2019

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