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GENUS: Euphorbia

Euphorbia cyparissias LCypress-spurge

Euphorbia maculata LWartweed

Euphorbia marginata Pursh.—Snow-on-the-mountain

FAMILY: Euphorbiaceae—the Spurge Family (see Codiaeum)

PHENOLOGY: Euphorbia spp. bloom from May to September depending on the taxon.

DISTRIBUTION: More than twenty species of Euphorbia are found in Pennsylvania. They occur as weeds (Euphorbia maculata L ), as garden plants (E. marginata Pursh ), or as plants escaped from cultivation (E cyparissias L ).

PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: The Euphorbia cyathium contains staminate flowers: several, each containing one stamen; pistilate flower: one, containing one pistil; ovary: 3-celled, 3-ovuled; styles: 3; involucre: 4- to 5-lobed, usually bearing glands in the sinuses. Our plants are herbs, usually with milky, acrid juice.

POISONOUS PARTS: The whole plant, fresh or dried, is poisonous.

SYMPTOMS: Diarrhea, collapse, and death may result from ingestion of Euphorbia cyparissias. Hay contaminated with E. cyparissias has caused death in cattle.

Euphorbia maculata, growing predominantly in a pasture, caused a 30% loss of Hampshire lambs. Euphorbia maculata fed to lambs at a rate of 0.62°/c body weight caused death within hours. Surviving lambs were photosensitized so that exposure to sunlight produced edematous enlargement of the head. Toxicity may increase during July and August when rains follow a period of drought.

Euphorbia marginata produced diarrhea and emaciation, lasting several months, when 100 oz was fed to cattle. Consumption of this plant can cause blistering, irritation, and inflammation of the upper digestive tract. The sap has been noted to cause contact dermatitis on the legs and face of horses. The death of a young woman, who drank a decoction of E. marginata in an effort to abort, is reported.

POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Irritant cocarcinogenic diterpenoids have been isolated as toxins in some Euphorbia species.

CONFUSED TAXA: Euphorbia cyparissias is a colonial plant from creeping rootstocks; leaves: linear, entire, crowded, 3 cm long, 1-nerved; cyathia: umbel-like cymes, yellowish green when young, becoming purplish red; glands: yellow, crescent shaped with 2 short horns.

Euphorbia maculata are prostrate plants growing like mats over the ground; leaves: all opposite, oblique at base, dark green, often with a median red spot: stipules: present; glands and petaloid appendages: 4. Botanists are not in full agreement as to the identity of plants to be included in this species. Some plants that may prove to be equivalent to E. maculata L., are E. supina, E. chamaesyce and E. hirta.

Euphorbia marginata grows to 2 m; leaves: alternate, sessile, broadly ovate to elliptic; leaves subtending the inflorescence: whorled; marginated with white, or entirely white; involucral lobes: fringed; appendages: 5, white, conspicuous; fruit: 3-lobed. 6-7 mm in diameter,

TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26)

OF INTEREST: All species of Euphorbia can be expected to contain the complex esters believed responsible for poisonings and are probably capable of eliciting an allergic reaction. Reported deaths from Euphorbia poisoning are rare but livestock can be seriously affected.

Euphorbia corollata L. (flowering spurge) has been implicated in the poisoning of livestock. This widely distributed weed flowers from May though September and has 5 cyathial glands and white petaloid appendages. It has been used in small doses for diaphoresis and as an expectorant.

Euphorbia heterophylla L. (fire-on-the-mountain), commonly cultivated in the Midwest, is now becoming prevalent as an escaped plant in the East. Diagnostic characters include the absence of petaloid appendages on the singular gland of the involucre and stem leaves that are mostly alternate, glabrous above, and hairy beneath. A closely related species, E. dentata Michx., has opposite leaves with hairs on both sides. It too is found in increasing numbers on dry sites, along roadsides, and in waste places. Both are to be treated with suspicion, although no records indicate poisonings from these taxa.

Other species to be alerted to are E. Preslii Guss, E. esula L. (leafy spurge), and E. Peplus L, (petty spurge). The last-named species is locally abundant in vegetable gardens, and unconfirmed reports indicate that dogs eating a low concentrated mixture of it and grass develop violent diarrhea; it has proven lethal to human beings. Euphorbia lathyris (caper-spurge) was used as a medicinal folk remedy. This toxic species can still be found around old homesteads and as an escaped plant.

Euphorbia commonly grown as houseplants include Euphorbia Milfi Ch. des Moulins (crown-of thorns) and E pulcherrina Willd. (Poinsettia). The crown-of-thorns is a woody, spiny plant with cyathia subtended by bright red bracts. When bruised, it produces an irritant, white, milky latex. No cases of severe poisoning have been reported in the literature, but crown-of-thorns may be toxic if consumed in quantity. Poinsettias are popular Christmas-time house plants. No well documented cases of severe poisoning exist despite many cases of fruit, bud, and leaf ingestion The irritant milk may produce symptoms of gastroenteritis including abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

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