Even in the midst of many other white flowers, those of Flowering Spurge stand out. When the flowers first appear, they are on tall stems away from other plants. Later on the stems lie along the ground and the flowers are hidden under other leaves making it fun to spot them.
Euphorbia corollata L.
May to October N Family: Euphorbiaceae
Flower: Each flower branch is tipped with one flower. Each flower has a little green cup with five shallow lobes. Five white bracts that look like petals spread out from the cup. The centers of the flowers are either filled with stamens or have a single pistil. There are many more of the staminate flowers than the pistillate.
Leaf: Alternate leaves circle the stem. Below a branch a whorl of three leaves grows. Each leaf is up to 2 inches long, half an inch wide in the middle and has a round tip. It is darker green on top than underneath. A row of short, light green hairs is on the leaf edge and down the underside of the midvein.
Stem: Several unbranched stems up to 3 feet tall can come from a single taproot. The stems branch at the top to form a loose flower umbel. The stems are round, smooth and pale to medium green. The lighter stems can have purple dots.
Root: The root is a perennial taproot.
Habitat: This plant likes sunny places like prairies, glades, roadsides, pastures and old fields. It often grows in poor soil so few other plants are around it.
Poisonous: The sap is a toxic, white latex.
Most Ozark members of Euphorbiaceae have small flowers, too small to notice without inspection. Flowering Spurge is an exception with its quarter inch across white flowers.
Like another, more well known member of the family, the poinsettia, the petals aren’t petals but colored bracts or modified leaves. The Flowering Spurge flower is crammed into the tiny space surrounded by the bracts.
Each plant opens a dozen to two dozen flowers. Only some of these are pistillate and will later produce seeds. The others have stamens forming a yellow ring inside the bracts.
The plants look delicate with their long, slender stem. They blow in the wind and snap back to erect. As the number of flowers increases, the stem either tangles in a nearby stronger plant or gradually sinks to the ground.
Flowering Spurge grows along the road here among bluff rocks, even in cracks in the rocks. The plants tower over most nearby vegetation except for small trees. the area is sunny and the rocks heat up to make it hot.
I try to be as accurate as possible with my plant descriptions referring to Yatskievych’s Flora of Missouri. If you find a problem, please let me know.
Exploring the Ozark Hills is a book of nature essays and photographs from the four seasons.