COMMON NAME

Cypress spurge


FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME

Euphorbia cyparissias L.


FAMILY NAME COMMON

Spurge family


FAMILY SCIENTIFIC NAME

Euphorbia cyparissias


IMAGES


Close-up of flowers

Habit

Fruits

Incursion

Rhizomes

NOMENCLATURE/SYNONYMS

Synonyms: Galarhoeus cyparissias (L.) Small ex Rydb.
Tithymalus cyparissias (L.) Hill


DESCRIPTION

Botanical Glossary

Euphorbia cyparissias is an herbaceous to semi-woody perennial that is 15-30 cm (6-12 in.) tall. This plant has an extensive underground root system which allows it to reproduce vegetatively via lateral root buds. When broken, the stems and leaves exude a white latex that characterizes this plant family. The plant has numerous bright green linear leaves that are located alternately along the stem and in whorls where they subtend the inflorescence. The leaves are 1-3 cm (0.4-1 in.) long and 1-3 mm (0.04-0.1 in.) wide. The flowers open in May and can persist through August. The flower structure of E. cyparissias is complex. The flowers are located in a cyme at the top of the plant. The true flowers are small, and lack sepals or petals. They are clustered in a structure called a cyathium which consists of many staminate flowers (male) clustered around one pistilate flower (female). This cyathium is in turn enclosed by an involucre that has four horned glands that are yellow green when young and turn to an orange brown with age. From this involucre come two cordate (heart-shaped) bracts which are a conspicuous bright yellow green turning to purple red as they age. The bracts are 4-6 mm (0.25 in.) wide. The fruit is three lobed and contains 1-3 egg shaped smooth gray seeds that measure 1.5-2 mm (0.08 in.). Page References Bailey 618, Fernald 968, Gleason & Cronquist 338, Holmgren 317, Magee & Ahles 703, Newcomb 408, Peterson & McKenny 162,374. See reference section below for full citations.


SIMILAR SPECIES

Euphorbia esula L. (Leafy spurge) E. esula is another invasive species that looks similar to E. cyparissias. The most obvious difference between these two plants is that E. esula is much taller and more robust than E. cyparissias. E. cyparissias has many more linear shaped leaves that measure 1-3 mm wide (0.04-0.1 in.) as opposed to the fewer and wider (3-8 mm (0.1-0.3 in.)) leaves of E. esula. Finally, E. cyparissias has smaller bracts than E. esula.


REPRODUCTIVE/DISPERSAL MECHANISMS

Euphorbia cyparissias can reproduce both sexually and vegetatively. Some of the plants in the United States and Canada are in fact sterile, though there are reports of both types of plants in New England. There is some evidence that the plants are self-sterile, thus colonies that are offspring of a single seed are barren, while colonies that are from multiple seeds are reproductive. The fruit of E. cyparissias are explosively dehiscent, and seeds are known to be dispersed by ants. The plant reproduces vegetatively via lateral root buds, forming extensive clonal populations.


DISTRIBUTION

Euphorbia cyparissias is found from England to Siberia, though the actual native range of this plant in Eurasia is not known. In the United States, this plant has been reported from all states with the exception of Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. It has been reported from all New England states.


HISTORY OF INTRODUCTION IN NEW ENGLAND

It is not known exactly how E. cyparissias was introduced into New England. It was likely introduced from England into North America as an ornamental at sometime in the mid-1800s. It was noted by Gray (1867) to have escaped from gardens and naturalized in Essex County, Massachusetts. It was introduced into Ontario, Canada in 1870.


HABITATS IN NEW ENGLAND

Abandoned Field, Agricultural Field, Edge, Open Disturbed Area, Pasture, Railroad Right-of-Way, Roadside, Utility Right-of-Way, Vacant Lot, Yard or Garden

Euphorbia cyparissias is most often found in old fields and natural grasslands.


THREATS

Euphorbia cyparissias is most often a threat along edges, in yards and other severely disturbed areas. This plant can be present in huge numbers in some of these disturbed areas. The capability of this plant to reproduce vegetatively makes it a greater threat than if it were dependent on seeds for reproduction. Euphorbia cyparissias is considered to be an agricultural pest because it is potentially toxic to horses and cattle. Humans can also be sensitive to the latex contained in the plant.


DOCUMENTATION NEEDS

Documentation required: A photograph of an inflorescence with leaves
Best time for documentation: Late spring, summer, fall


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Taxonomic information about the species

PLANTS Database
General information and map

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Short descriptive and control information

Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide
Brief descriptions and images


REFERENCES

Bailey, L. H. 1949. Manual of Cultivated Plants. Macmillan, New York.

Deane, W.  1910.  Euphorbia cyparissias in fruit.  Rhodora 12(135): 57-61.

Fernald, M.L.  1950.  Gray's Manual of Botany 8th edition.  American Book Company, New York.

Gassmann, A. and D. Schroeder.  1995.  The search for effective biological-control agents in Europe - history and lessons from leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula L.) and cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias L.). Biological Control 5(3): 466-477.

Gleason, H. A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York

Gleason, H.A. and A.C. Cronquist.  1991.  Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed.  New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Gray, A.  1867.  Gray's Manual of Botany 5th edition.

Hoffman, R. and K. Kearns, Eds. 1997. Wisconsin manual of control recommendations for ecologically invasive plants. Wisconsin Dept. Natural Resources. Madison, Wisconsin. 102 pp.

Holm, L.G., Pancho, J.V., Herberger, J.P., and Plucknett, D.L. 1979. A Geographical Atlas of World Weeds. John Wiley and Sons, New York, USA.

Holmgren, N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual.  New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Magee, D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999.  Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.

Muenscher, W.C.  1936.  The production of seed by Euphorbia cyparissias.  Rhodora 38(448): 161-163.

Newcomb, N. 1977.  Newcomb's Wildflower Guide.  Little Brown, Boston.

Peterson, R.T. and M. McKenny. 1968. A field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America.  Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Pfunder, M. and B.A. Roy.  2000.  Pollinator-mediated interactions between a pathogenic fungus, Uromyces pisi (Pucciniaceae), and its host plant, Euphorbia cyparissias (Euphorbiaceae).  American Journal of Botany 87(1): 48-55.

Schurch, S., M. Pfunder and B.A. Roy.  2000.  Effects of ants on the reproductive success of Euphorbia cyparissias and associated pathogenic rust fungi.  Oikos 88(1): 6-12.

Stahevitch, A.E., C.W. Crompton and W.A. Wojtas.  1988.  The biology of Canadian weeds 85. Euphorbia cyparissias L. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 68(1): 175-192.

USDA, NRCS.  2001.  The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (http://plants.usda.gov).  National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.