Scientific Name: Euphorbia helioscopia

Common Name: sun spurge

Other Common Names: madwoman's milk

Synonyms: Galarhoeus helioscopius, Tithymalus helioscopius

Leaves: The leaves of the upper stem appear whorled but usually occur in groups of 2 or occasionally 3. Leaves are oppositely arranged along the stem. Leaves are widest at the apex and taper to the base (oblanceolate). Leaf apexes are are very finely toothed or serrated. All leaves generally attach directly to the stem and do not occur on petioles (sessile).

Identifying Characteristics: A winter annual that grows prostrate along the ground with tips and upper stem portions ascending (decumbent growth habit). All parts of the plant emit a milky sap when cut. The distinctive red stems, leaves with finely toothed leaf apexes, and milky sap are all characteristics that help in the identification of sun spurge. From a distance, this plant might be confused with Cypress Spurge (<a href='../../weedimg/186'>Euphorbia cyparissias</a>), which has very similar flowers. However, the leaves of cypress spurge are much more linear than those of sun spurge and upon closer examination distinguishing between the two species is relatively easy.

Flower Seed Head: Inconspicuous, light green to pale yellow in color. inflorescences (cyathias) occur at the ends of stems and are 4-lobed. Each lobe has a round yellowish gland.

Seed Fruit: A very distinctive 3-parted capsule (3-4 mm long) that contains a single, 2 mm long dark brown seed.

Where Found: Sun spurge is a somewhat rare weed of pastures, hayfields, and winter small grains in Virginia.

  • Life cycle: winter annual

  • Milky sap: Present

  • Plant type: Herb

  • Thorns: Not Present

  • Plant family: Euphorbiaceae

  • Leaf arrangement: whorled; opposite

  • Leaf shape: lance

  • Ochrea: Not Present

  • Leaf margin: serrated

  • Stem hairs: has hairs

  • Flower color: green; yellow

  • Growth habit: prostrate and nonwoody

  • Stem: round or oval

  • Leaf structure: simple

  • Leaf hairs: no hairs

  • Flower symmetry: radial symmetery

  • Flower diameter: pencil; dime

  • Root structure: taproot; fibrous

  • Leaf stalk: none