Euphorbia virgata (Leafy Spurge)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Euphorbiaceae (Spurge)
Life cycle:perennial
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
  • Noxious Weed
  • Prohibited or Restricted species
Habitat:sun; fields, along roads, disturbed soil
Bloom season:May - September
Plant height:1 to 2 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] Flat to rounded cluster at the top of the stem, the main cluster branches radiating from the stem tip; each branch may be forked 1 or more times. Smaller clusters often arise from the upper leaf axils. Individual flowers have a pair of ¼-inch round to heart-shaped, green to yellowish bracts that may look like petals. In the center are 4 tiny flat glands with a pointed projection on each end, somewhat horn-like. Under the glands are the globular ovaries. The glands are greenish to yellowish to orangeish; the ovaries are green.

[photo of cluster bracts] At the base of the terminal cluster is a whorl of leaf-like bracts, similar in shape to the leaves or much shorter and wider.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate, 1 to 3 inches long, lance-linear, pointed at the tip, toothless, hairless, stalkless, and often become larger as they ascend the stem, with the lowest leaves very short or scale-like. Stems are single or multiple from the base, erect to ascending, hairless, branched or not, the branches (when present) mostly ascending, non-flowering, and leafier than the main stem. Plants form colonies from spreading rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is a 3-lobed green capsule about 1/8 in diameter, covered in minute bumps giving a grainy texture; each lobe contains a single seed.

[photo of seed] Seeds are oval-elliptic, 2 to 3 mm long, pale to dark brown or yellow-brown with a distinct seam down one side and a fleshy appendage near where the seed was attached to the stalk.


Leafy Spurge is on the noxious weed list for Minnesota and can be hard to eradicate, though several biocontrols are available that can knock a population back pretty effectively after a several years of treatment. Leafy Spurge is similar to the also-weedy Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias), which has similar flowers but is generally a smaller plant with narrower leaves, and often with a few short, widely spreading, leafy branches on the upper stem where Leafy Spurge branches, when present, are more ascending and tend to be lower on the stem. According to Flora of North America, North American populations of Leafy Spurge were long thought to be Euphorbia esula, but that was a misapplication of that name and it's more appropriately treated as Euphorbia virgata.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Lisa R - Nevis (north central)
on: 2009-08-20 14:14:17

I've noticed a few of these along the Heartland Trail. I remember years ago when we were warned about this as a noxious weed, but I'm not seeing a lot of them now. Despite their noxious nature, they're a pretty little plant. (I think!)

Posted by: Meredith - Shoreview
on: 2010-05-06 18:21:33

This plant is all over the hill behind my house. I believe there is also Cyprus Spurge inter-mixed as well but I haven't found any that have bloomed yet.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2010-05-10 17:39:15

I think Cypress spurge starts blooming about a month before leafy spurge does. If you see blooms now it is more likely Cypress spurge, but you could easily have both.

Posted by: Elaine - Brainerd
on: 2010-06-11 22:34:17

This is growing around the lake at Kiwanis Park in Brainerd - didn't know what it was until I found this site.

Posted by: TJ - Andover
on: 2011-05-24 08:51:59

I have leafy spurge that I have treated with an insect that I received from the MN Department of Agriculture. We have an acre of land that is left to grow naturally. A neighbor had a large patch growing in her yard and wouldn't do anything about it when I told her it was a MN noxious weed. I couldn't find anywhere to report this so she would kill it. It naturally moved to my property. I can't really tell how successful the insects have been but the MDA tells me that as long as there is spurge, the insects will stay around.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2011-05-24 10:36:21

I believe leafy spurge is one of the three species for which MN has a biological control at this time. The other two are spotted knapweed and purple loosestrife. Garlic mustard may be coming soon.

As I understand it, while the bio agents can make a dent in the weed population, they won't likely eradicate it, and if they do it will take a number of years. So you'll probably have leafy spurge for a long time. :-(

Posted by: TJ - Andover
on: 2013-07-14 22:58:36

Hi, I submitted a comment in May 2011 about the leafy spurge on my property and the bio agents that I received from the DOA. Well, I don't know if the bugs are still here are not but the Euphorbia ensula has spread along with the crown vetch that also was gifted to me by the same neighbor. The saddest part, is that the native prairie plants that used to be there is no longer obvious. There really needs to be some State area that could help educate people when called upon. Thanks, TJ

Posted by: Deb - Saint Francis
on: 2014-06-06 14:34:33

I have a garden full of Cypress Spurge that is getting out of control. I got it from someone that referred to it a type of sedum. I will have to get after this stuff. Any suggestions other than pulling? How well did the insects work?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-06-06 19:28:17

Deb, the bio control is for leafy spurge and may not work on Cypress spurge. Regardless, you should be able to control Cypress spurge (more or less) just by pulling.

Posted by: Lois - Swing Bridge Park, Inver Grove Heights
on: 2015-06-01 22:54:03

Colony upon Colony along trail down to river to bridge.

Posted by: Brittany - Woodbury (Washington County)
on: 2015-07-10 10:55:50

First saw this plant on our property last year with three or four stalks right along the fenceline. It was the most beautiful bright green, highly unusual from most other sorts of plants, and I identified it as this. Forgot to remove it last year but then just dug it up as deeply as I could last night. There were still only four stalks, but two or three more on our neighbor's property on the other side of the fence. Such a neat, pretty plant...pity it had to go!

Posted by: Ellen S.
on: 2016-10-29 16:12:33

Info on getting the biocontrol insects:

Posted by: Tim - North Mississippi Regional Park
on: 2018-05-27 11:44:52

Patches blooming today in restored prairie sections of the park.

Posted by: Kathleen Zusan - Saint Paul
on: 2019-06-21 10:09:32

Along the Trout Creek Trail south of Maryland Avenue. I've been walking that trail for a couple of years now. I only noticed them this summer, and there are a lot of them.

Posted by: Paul henjum - Apple Valley
on: 2020-03-30 06:57:21

Introduced into my yard in a load of black soil to be used in my flower beds. Pain in the *** to get rid of because it spreads underground and any piece left in the ground generates a new plant. The milky sap is slightly irritating. I found the best way to get rid of it is to spray it with Round-Up mixed with some dish soap in early spring. Pulling it is nearly futile.

Posted by: TC - Minneapolis, Oak Grove Cemetery (southern field) + roadside
on: 2020-08-31 01:33:47

In the overgrown parts of the cemetery (south side) and in many overgrown areas in the warehouse area adjacent. Tons of it. Fairly sure it is Leafy Spurge, and not the less noxious Cypress Spurge/Graveyard Weed (which would have been more appropriate, haha).

Posted by: Diana - Bemidji
on: 2023-07-19 08:17:05

My friend commented about the "beautiful yellow flowers" blooming along the South Shore of Lake Bemidji - and in areas along the bike path to town. I photographed and reported them to MDA, which contacted the county weed inspector, and later uploaded to EDDMapS. I think this one caught their attention!

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