Invasive Species Spotlight – Leafy Spurge

Name: Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia esula)

Origin: Eurasia

NYS Presence: Leafy spurge has been identified in more than 15 counties across the state. It is found in grasslands, meadows, and riparian areas.

Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Yellow-green leafy spurge plants in a field, photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, assessed from Bugwood.org

Species Profile: Leafy spurge is a perennial plant that spreads by both seed and its extensive root system. These roots have little pink buds that produce new shoots or roots. The root system can reach depths of 30 feet into the soil, making it a tough invasive to control.The leaves are narrow and linear with lengths as long as 4 inches. They are arranged alternately on the pale green stems of the plant.

Euphorbia esula
A yellow-green leafy spurge flower, photo by Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA, accessed from Wikicommons

Two key characteristics to look for when trying to identify leafy spurge are:

  1. the plant’s tiny yellowish-green flowers, which grow in groups of three. Each one is enclosed by a pair of heart-shaped bracts (leaflike structure beneath the flower). Flowering begins in mid-May and will in some cases last until mid-Autumn.
  2. The second is the white, milky sap within the plant. Any stem or leave breakage will result in the release of this sap. There are a number of similar species of spurge species in the state, some which are also non-native and invasive.
Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Leafy spurge plants, photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, accessed from Bugwood.org

The leafy spurge’s ability to spread at a fast pace make this invasive plant highly competitive. Dense stands will often smother or shade out other native species, therefore decreasing biodiversity. This species is a threat to native grasslands, meadows, and agricultural lands. Although cattle are not particularly fond of leafy spurge, sheep and goats have been known to snack on it and spread the seeds around in the process.

Resources:

New York Invasive Species leafy spurge

Colorado Department of Agriculture Leafy spurge identification and management

Featured image: Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA, accessed from Wikicommons

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