Leafy Spurge
Euphorbia esulaEuphorbiaceae
Photos (c) Cheryl Comeau Beaton unless otherwise noted


  • spurge, wolf's milk

The Plant:

  • An herbaceous perennial, 1-2.25 feet tall, with strong roots.

The Leaves:

  • bluish-green in color
  • lanceolate
  • 1.25-3 inches long
  • alternate
  • leaves under the umbel are shorter, broader and lanceolate to ovate

The Stem:

  • bluish-green
  • when broken release white milky latex

The Flowers:

  • flowers borne in umbels
  • bracts opposite
  • broadly cordate to reniform in shape
  • flowers inconspicuous and held within two yellow-green bracts
  • bracts form a cup-like structure, and are rounded with pointy tips
  • bracts open late May to early June
  • actual flowers open late June
  • smaller umbels may arise from the upper leaf axils

The Fruits:

  • green capsules contain 1 seed per chamber
  • mottled brown seeds are explosively dispersed

The Habitat:

  • roadside and disturbed areas
  • old fields and pastures
  • very problematic in northern plains


  • seed is water dispersed or sticks to animals
  • also re-sprouts from rhizomes

Key ID Features:

  • alternately arranged lanceolate leaves
  • stems release milky white latex when broken
  • bluish-green stems and leaves
  • late May yellow bracts

Similar Species:

  • Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is also an invasive plant that resembles Leafy spurge, but is shorter, less robust, and has thinner leaves and smaller flower bracts.


  • Leafy spurge can quickly inhabit an area due to its deep and complex root system, high germination rate and ability for the seeds to remain viable in the soil for many years. It can displace native plants through competition for resources with the aid of allelopathic compounds (chemicals that inhibit growth of other plants) that the plant produces.
  • This species is not known on Nantucket as of December 2006.

Growth Form: Herb

Origin: Europe, Asia

Level of Invasiveness for Nantucket: Potential Invasive

Level of Invasiveness for Massachusetts: Invasive

Massachusetts Cultivation Restrictions: importation ban, propagation ban

Credits: The Electronic Field Guide to the Invasive Plants of Nantucket (c) 2005-2006 Maria Mitchell Association, EFG Project, UMass Boston