Caper Spurge (Euphorbia lathyris)

euphorbia-lathyris-592244_1920Family: Euphorbiaceae

Growth Habit: An erect, single to multi-stemmed plant. The stem is glaucous and blue green as are the leaves, which are waxy in texture and have a pale greenish-white midrib and veins. Upper stem leaves are twice as long as the lower leaves, 5-15 cm long and 1-2.5 cm wide. It has a characteristic milky, latex-like sap that may cause extreme skin irritation and damage to sensitive areas such as the eyes.

Photo: Leonora Enking
Photo: Leonora Enking

Type of Plant: Caper spurge is an annual herb which can grow up to 150 cm tall. It germinates in autumn and spring.

Flowers: Caper spurge has tiny green flowers, which are often hard to distinguish from the leaves.

Fruit/Seed: Three-segmented capsules are produced which contain numerous seeds. The fruit is toxic.

Dispersal: Capsules split open throwing the seeds up to several metres. Long range dispersal is known to occur by seed being carried in creeks and rivers.

Distribution: An occasional weed in most parts of Tasmania. It appears to be more common in the north and north-west. Caper spurge is usually found in neglected gardens, roadsides and wastelands as well as along, or adjacent to, rivers and creeks.

Status: Secondary/prohibited in Tasmania.

Weed Impact:

  • Caper spurge has been associated with stock poisoning.
  • Its milky latex-like sap is heavy in alkaloids and can cause irritation and swelling to the human body, particularly sensitive areas such as the eyes.

For further information contact the Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and Environment, Tasmania.

Control Methods:

  • Grubbing (all year). As this plant can cause skin irritations, gloves should be worn or a hoe used when manually removing.
  • Cultivation is effective and usually disappears with competitive pastures.
  • Herbicide (spring, summer and autumn). Herbicides registered in Tasmania include MCPA, Dicamba and glyphosate.

N.B. Always check the herbicide label before use.