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Leafy spurge

Quick facts

Leafy spurge is an invasive species. Leafy spurge is on the Control noxious weed list meaning you must prevent the spread of this plant.

  • 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.

How to identify leafy spurge

  • Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) is a 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
    Leafy spurge

 

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

Reviewed in 2019

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