Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image
leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula)
ODA rating: B and T
Oregon leafy spurge distribution
Other common names
wolf's milk, Faitour's grass, Hungarian spurge
Click on image to view larger photo
Images courtesy of Dan Sharratt, Oregon Department of Agriculture
 If images are downloaded and used from the ODA web site please be sure to credit the photographer.
Leafy spurge is an aggressive perennial herb that grows upright, branching, and reaches two-three feet tall with tough woody stems that excude milky white latex sap when broken. It has alternate narrow leaves, somewhat frosted and slightly wavy along the margins. The flower of this weed are very small and are borne in greenish-yellow structures surrounded by yellow distinctive heart-shaped bracts. Leafy spurge has an extensive root system that can can extend up to 20 feet below the surface.  Rizomes are woody, brown, have numerous pink buds and are capable of producing above ground shoots. Seeds are ovid to cylindrical and gray to brown in color. Seed capsules have 3 compartments each with 1 seed. Plants are capable of producing copious amounts of seed which is dispered by an explosive ruptureing that can propel seeds up to 10 feet from the plant.  All parts of this plant contain a poisonous latex sap.

Leafy spurge is one of the West's most invasive and difficult to control weed species.  It is capable of invading disturbed sites, including prairies, savannas, pastures, abandoned fields and roadside areas. Like all spurges it is considered toxic to cattle but sheep and goats may readly feed on it following an acclimation period.  This plant has the ability to reduce cattle carrying capacity of infested rangelands by 50 to 75%. Leafy spurge is very capable of dominating the plant community and habitat and significantly decreasing the diversity of native species.  Leafy spurge also shows allelopathic tendencies.  Once established, control of even modest-sized infestations is difficult, and annual treatments are required to contain populations. A grazing prescription which includes sheep grazing prior to other livestock has been sucessful in increasing agricultural productivity in rangelands infested with leafy spurge in parts of the West. This weed tolerates moist to dry soil conditions but is most common under dry conditions with coarse-textured soils where competition from native plants is reduced.   A milky latex exists in all parts of the plant that can cause skin irritations in humans, cattle, and horses and may cause permanent blindness if rubbed into the eye.

The scientific name of leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula ) can be literally translated from the Greek to mean "good pasture for eating." Sources indicate that name was given to the plant by the King of Mauritania, naming it after his physician Euphorbos for his use of the plant. Native to Europe and Asia, brought to the U. S. from Eurasia about 1897 and it now occurs across much of the northern states including Pacific Northwest.

Distribution in Oregon
First report of this plant in Oregon was 1930 in Klamath County.

Biological controls
There are twelve approved biological control agents available, six of which have been established in Oregon.
Aphthona abdominalis 
Aphthona cyparissiae
Aphthona czwalinae
Aphthona flava   
Apthona lacertosa
Aphthona nigriscutis
Chamaesphecia crassicornis
Hyles euphorbiae
Oberea erythrocephala
Spurgia esula