Euphorbia Lactea: Handling the Toxic Mottled Spurge

Ed Wike
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Quick Care Guide

If you have spurge in your yard, you may be tempted to kill it. However, Euphorbia lactea is a valuable plant with a lot of interesting properties. So before you pull up your mottled spurge, consider these points:

Euphorbia lactea is not only toxic to humans, but it is also toxic to many animals – It is mildly toxic to horses, and severely poisonous to cattle and sheep. When ingested by animals it is not dangerous; rather the plant is extremely irritating to the mouth, pharynx, and gastrointestinal tract. The plant is not particularly poisonous to dogs, cats, or humans. In fact, the sap is beneficial for the relief of bruises, skin irritations, and bee stings.

All About Mottled Spurge

Euphorbia Lactea is called the Mottled Spurge, Milk Spurge or the Poinsettia Euphorbia because it’s green leaves resemble a poinsettia. What makes Mottled Spurge toxic is the milky white sap.

Mottled Spurge is a non-native, invasive plant.

It is a slow-growing perennial. It has long, narrow leaves and grows to about three feet tall. It grows close to the ground. Stems grow from the center of the plant.

It is very poisonous to humans and animals, and it’s a big problem in the United States.

It is native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor. It is in the Euphorbia Family and contains glycoside and resin. It grows in open areas and shores. It thrives in moist, well-drained mineral soils. It grows best in full sun.

Types of Euphorbia Lactea

There are over 2,500 species of Euphorbia so it is difficult to characterize them. All, however, share many similar properties including a common toxicity.

In general, the most common types of Euphorbia Lactea are:

Dalmatian Spurge (Euphorbia dalmatinii)

Mottled Spurge (Euphorbia mammillaris var. lactea)

Mottled Spurge, Deilmann's Spurge (Euphorbia mammillaris f. deilmannii)

Hairy Spurge (Euphorbia pilulifera var. hispanica)

Whorled Spurge (Euphorbia Dendroides)

White Crowned Euphorbia (Euphorbia splendens f. albino)

Dragon Bones Care

Light & Temperature

The Mottled Spurge is a succulent herb with jagged red-green foliage that forms a pincushion on a woody brown stem. A large example will grow two to three feet high with a three foot spread. It is a close relative of the sea holly.

Its small chartreuse greenish white flowers appear in the summer and are followed by small almost triangular seed pods.

The generic name, Euphorbia, is derived from Greek for spurge. In some countries it is known as Chufa.

Mottled Spurge contains toxic saponins. In spite of its toxic sap, at one time this plant was used as a purgative or emetic.

It has also been used in some places (in moderation) as a meat tenderizer.

Water & Humidity

Before training Euphorbia Lactea, you will want to look at its growing conditions. At least in the United States, this plant likes dry climates. In the wild, it is found growing in sand dunes that have little to no humidity. The plant would not be hardy enough to survive in wetter growing conditions. Some may think that this is the time to build even more humidity than normal. But the hardiness of Euphorbia Lactea doesn’t mean that it can’t be killed. Any time you have a plant that loves dry conditions, you’ll want to ensure that it stays dry. If the plant gets too much humidity, it will die the same way a human being will get too much humidity ‗ by drying out. If you’re growing this plant in a greenhouse, it’s best to add extra fans in the building. Just keep in mind, that should you give this plant the room it needs to dry out, you’ll have to factor in how much humidity the room around it has.

Soil

If you have some plants that thrive in alkaline soil, what can you substitute for the standard potting soil that is used to produce most indoor and shade plants?

The most important key to consider when using soil for concrete, sand, gravel, or to build up areas of your yard, is the smorgasbord of minerals it brings to the table.

The calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, silicon (source of your micro-nutrients) it is responsible for facilitating growth.

The next consideration is the texture. Too heavy and your plant will not be able to break through for necessary photosynthesis. If the top soil is too thin, it will be unable to retain water and it will dry out.

Because of this, soil for concrete is heavy and does not drain well. So don't put it in a saucer or tray. If you do need to water daily, use a peat moss base and replenish your water with a weak fertilizer solution every few days. That way you can put water on it without making a mess.

If you can get your hands on earthworm castings, you'll be doing your plants a favor. This soil is nutrient rich and loaded with worms who break down this earth into a mineral rich form of soil.

Fertilizer

Plants interact with many fewer variables than we do. In fact, most plants do only a few things: grow, photosynthesize, expand their populations, flower, fruit and die. But, the plant cell itself is a sophisticated chemical plant that can convert sunlight, air and water into food.

Our job as gardeners is to supply appropriate nutrition for our plants. When a plant needs a specific element, such as phosphorus or nitrogen, we commonly add it as fertilizer. Fertilizers provide the foundation for a healthy, productive garden and a long-lived garden.

Different fertilizer types have different effects on plants. Types that provide nutrients like nitrogen help plants grow and become thick and lush. Phosphorus helps improve the quality of foliage and promotes larger root systems. P hosphorous tends to be especially important for plants that bloom.

Any gardening job includes some component of fertilizing, but the approach to fertilizer depends a lot on your intentions. If you're growing a huge bed, you probably can't be as fine-tuned with fertilizers as an organic gardener. An organic gardener can even use human urine as a fertilizer, as long as it's first been composted to remove the minerals that plants can't absorb.

In most cases, both strategies mean using a basic fertilizer like "Miracle-Gro."

Repotting

Proper repotting and handling techniques for the toxic mottled spurge can minimize health risks for you and your family. The key is to follow safety procedures and handle it with care.

One of the issues with repotting your Mottled Spurge toxic plant is that the roots can be fully grown, or they could come off of the toxic jellys. It is best to have a professional repots Euphorbia Lactea. That way you can avoid the toxic jellys. If you must repot it yourself, it is perfectly OK to do so. Just make sure you use protective gear like rubber gloves, a respirator and eye protection.

Your toxic plant will yield new growth after repotting. So it is best to repot the toxic plant in the late fall or winter months. The time of year is a personal preference. If you do repot the toxic plant in the spring, just be aware that the toxic jellies could be more potent than usual. When the Euphorbia lactea molts, the toxicity is increased.

When repotting your toxic plant, you should keep it at temperatures between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This will help with the new growth you should expect.

Propagation

Euphorbia lactea is known in many other places as toxic mottled spurge or milk spurge.

In Euphorbia species, the serrated leaves are really are what give the plant its toxic effects. The plants don't have the usual milky sap of some related species and can be used as houseplants or ornamental weeds for their attractive leaves. The leaves usually have color splotches on the surface of the leaf. Although most of the species in the Euphorbia genus are poisonous, Euphorbia lactea is the most toxic species.

The plants are parasitic, meaning they live on the roots of other plants.

It uses their nourishment to grow and it will kill the host plant. Its entire life cycle takes place underground.

It draws nourishment from the roots fairly quickly.

The researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that C3 (C-3) host plants were significantly more susceptible to infection by toxic mottled spurge than C4 (C-4) and CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolic) hosts.

C4 plants include corn, sugarcane, and sorghum, while CAM plants include lettuce, buttercups, and dandelions.

CAM plants can be grown together with C3 plants, but should be separated from C4 plants to avoid poisoning.

Grafting A Frankenstein Cactus

Pruning

Many people love to have Euphorbia lactea ‖ also known as toxic mottled spurge or Euphorbia Lactea ‗ in their garden. It has tall, spiky, waxy-green stems with cream and brown blotches. The spurs that project from the leaf center make them attractive to gardeners for their flowers, which dangle underneath the leaf. They also like the fact that the spurs are edible. When the spurs mature, they ripen to a white to greenish-yellow, and when they are green, they can be harvested.

However, many people don’t know much about Euphorbia Lactea. They don’t know that these spurges must be treated like a toxic plant.

Despite the fact that they are toxic, you can still grow them in your garden and enjoy them. Many people are willing to do what it takes to make the mottled spurge thrive. In fact, they will even prune the toxic mottled spurge to help it develop the best flowers possible.

Troubleshooting

The Toxic Spurge

The common name Mottled Spurge refers to African Mottled Spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) and Euphorbia lactea are both candidates for this common name … and they are toxic! Not just to rodents. They expel a milky sap that can cause strong reactions in people. It's a defense mechanism to discourage plant eaters.

Most common genera of Euphorbia produce a milky sap when broken. Non-toxic Goutweed (E. tomentosa) is one exception. It may be hard to tell the difference when dealing with a green plant. But once you learn how to identify them, it's not difficult. You can probably find images to print out online to use as a reference chart while you're deciding what you have.

Growing Problems

Mottled spurge is a very fast growing succulent that is used to low light environments. When cultivated in a proper environment, it can grow up to 2 feet that is thick and almost not possible to get through.

It is a succulent that grows in an indoor garden too during winter, and it can seasonally be seen in every part of the country. The blooms are in the summertime, but small leaves and green tinted foliage makes it hard to detect.

The Euphorbia lactea belongs to the Euphorbia group, but the toxic kind of spurges. Spurges aren’t a household name, but you would probably recognize some if you saw them.

They’re the small, shrub-like plants with milky sap that grows in public areas and have three-sectioned leaves with an oval shape.

Although spurges can be kept indoors, they’re dangerous if left unattended.

Pests

Plants have their own defenses against attack from insects and animals. The Mottled Spurge Euphorbia Lactea uses toxins to keep pests away. It is in the Spurge family which also includes the infamous Euphorbia Peplus, also toxic when eaten. The Mottled Spurge is highly toxic to the Spurge-loving bug Jewel Beetle.

This little bug lives in the Spurge family throughout Arizona. Painted Lady butterflies love the plant. The fact that it is toxic and the change in color it undergoes after damage are all the protection it needs to protect itself and the bugs on it from the birds that would love to eat it.

Most of us would love to have the Jewel Beetle come help us with our Mottled Spurge problems. Many people do not like the idea of us chemically treating the Mottled Spurge but we live in such an agricultural community that the people who want the old fashioned solution of using these chemicals. The people who use the chemicals to get rid of the Mottled Spurge are primarily commercial gardeners. They would like to have harvesting going on.

Diseases

Mottled spurge is easy to spot because it generally grows up to six feet or more. The most distinguishing feature is the white, green, and yellow variegated mottling on the stems of the plant. Therefore, it’s commonly known as the mottled spurge.

Apart from this appearance, this plant is highly toxic and can cause some serious health problems.

Contact dermatitis may occur with the mucilage from the stems. A person can be exposed to the toxin by contact with the skin.

Mucilage from the sap can ooze from the stems if punctured. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when gardening.

In addition to dermatitis, inhalation of the powder could also affect your lungs adversely.

Hence, even handling this Euphorbia plant could cause you some health problems.

FAQs

Euphorbia lactea is a member of a genus of poisonous plants known as Spurges. There are roughly 2000 plants in the genus ranging in toxicity.

Euphorbia lactea is known as the Mottled Spurge. The epithet refers to the mottling on its stems and anywhere else you see this plant. It's scientific name is derived from euphorbia meaning pleasurable (as in this is a pleasurable plant… for some, but not others) and lactea for the milky sap seen throughout the plant.

Euphorbia lactea is native to the Mediterranean region and Middle East but can be found in temperate climates anywhere in Europe. It is often found in old fields, roadsides, and even on beaches. It is a perennial and usually grows to be around 6” (15cm) tall.

The 'milky' sap within Euphorbia lactea is poisonous to humans and livestock. It doesn't cause a rash or burning sensation like Solanaceae plants (Tomato, Potato, and others). Instead, it causes a severe, burning sensation in the mouth and throat and an overall burning sensation throughout the body. It can also cause blood in the urine. From ingesting Euphorbia lactea, you can expect to begin experiencing symptoms within a 30 minute time period. This can last for up to 30 hours.