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Flowering Spurge Euphorbia corollata


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Flowering Spurge - flower closeup
credit: Eileen McFall/CCSA

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Family: Euphorbiaceae, Spurge view all from this family

Description Minute flowers surrounded by white, round, petal-like bracts attached to rim of a cup, all in a few- to much-branched, open cluster atop each stem.
Habit: native perennial herb; one or several unbranched stems, with milky sap; taprooted.
Height: 6-40 in (15-100 cm)
Leaf: alternate, becoming 3-whorled above, oblong to linear, bluish-green, to 3 in (7.5 cm) long, 0.5 in (1.5 cm) wide.
Flower: small flower-like structure, 0.375 in (9 mm) wide, with 5 wide oval bracts, white with greenish throat and yellow center (the actual flowers); in terminal cluster, spreading, doubly-branched, to 12 in (30 cm) wide.
Fruit: small capsule, ovoid, brown, to 0.15 in (4 mm) long.

Warning Flowering Spurge has been used as a laxative, but large doses can be poisonous. Members of this genus are known to fatally poison cattle. Contact with plant, especially its milky sap, can cause irritation of skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Flower May to October.

Flower June - July; September - October

Habitat Sunny sites with dry to moderate moisture: prairies, pastures, abandoned fields, stream banks, glades, open woods, inland dunes, railways, roadsides, waste places; sometimes cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Native to eastern and central North America, from Maine south to Florida, west to Texas, north to South Dakota, northeast to Minnesota and Ontario.

Discussion Also called dwarf milkweed, wild ipecac, blooming spurge, white flowering spurge, prairie spurge. Three varieties are proposed.

As in dogwood, the "flower petals" of E. corollata are really bracts. The true flowers are tiny yellow dots at the center of the bracts (male flowers) and the green globe on a slim stalk protruding from the center (female flower). This flower structure, called a cyathium, and the milky juice exuded by the stem, are typical of many Euphorbia species.

The common name spurge comes from the Latin expurgare (to purge), alluding to the poisonous nature of the plant. Snow-on-the-mountain (E. marginata), native to the Midwest, has upper leaves with white edges.

Comments The milky juice in the stem can cause blisters on sensitive skin.

Exposure Preference Sun.

Native Distribution New York to s.e. Minnesota & s.e. South Dakota, s. to Florida, Texas, w. Oklahoma & e. Kansas

Site Preference Rocky prairies; open woodlands; fields; roadsides; waste places

Soil Preference Dry to mesic soils.