Euphorbia cyathophora (Painted Leaf)

Plant Info
Also known as: Wild Poinsettia, Fire-on-the-mountain
Family:Euphorbiaceae (Spurge)
Life cycle:annual, short-lived perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; moist, gravelly soil; disturbed areas, roadsides, open woods, floodplains
Bloom season:July - October
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
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] Flowers are tiny and indistinct in clusters at the tips of branches. A small, green cup, 1/8 inch across, holds several (typically 3) male (staminate) flowers, each with a single stamen with two yellow anthers, surrounding  a single female (pistallate) flower with a six-parted pistil in the center. The round, three lobed ovary below the pistil develops quickly on a stalk that extends it out and down from the flower center. The rim of the cup has a single, thickened, oblong gland - green turning red. The leafy bracts surrounding the flower are typically bright red at the base end. The structure of this flower is called a cyathium and common to all the Euphorbias.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of violin-shaped leaves] Leaves mostly alternate, though a few upper leaves can be opposite, highly variable from linear to broadly oblong, lobed to fiddle-shaped, up to 4 inches long and 2 inches wide, the edges smooth to finely toothed, very short stalked near the flowers and longer stalked below. The upper surface is mostly hairless and the lower sparsely hairy. Stems are erect, unbranched to much branched, and hairless. Leaves and stems exude a milky sap when broken.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a deeply three lobed capsule, 1/5 inch wide, that develops rapidly from the center of the cyathium, typically before the surrounding stamens are fully developed. The fruit hangs down on a short stalk becoming erect at maturity, each lobe containing a single seed.

[photo of seed] Seeds are egg-shaped to oval to cylindric, 2 to 3 mm long, mottled gray, brown and black, the surface irregularly covered in shallow pits and small bumps, or, when cylindric, more evenly ridged in rows.


In Minnesota where Euphorbia cyathophora (sometimes known as Poinsettia cyathophora) is at the northern fringe of its range, this is a small statured, marginal plant of sand prairie and bluffs along the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers in the southwest central and southeast counties, respectively. In the more southern and eastern parts of its North American range, it can inhabit moister and shadier habitats, getting much larger and showier. It is cultivated for its showy red bracts, similar to the Christmas poinsettia to which it is closely related. Introduced to many parts of the world it has become weedy in much of the South Pacific from Taiwan to Australia.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dakota, Hennepin and Renville counties, and in a private garden in Ramsey County.


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

Posted by: Larry - Golden Valley
on: 2013-09-01 12:56:42

I saw a group of these plants that initially looked like grass at the Rapids Lake Unit of MRVAC. They were in a partly sunny area of a dry gravel slope.

Posted by: Linda Schaetzel - Minneapolis
on: 2018-07-10 21:43:56

i live in South Minneapolis south of 38 st & east of Chicago AVe. I have millions of these in my yard. I moved here in 1974 and they were here in full force. I have spent almost 40 yr trying to get rid of them. I gave up 2 yrs ago. They have crept all over & under everything. I let a patch grow where only weeds thrived as I always neglected that spot. They have formed a solid bed and no other weeds are growing. Do they ave a toxic effect on other plants? i am trying to get them to invade the bell flowers in the cracks in the sidewalk by the house to see if they will kill them off. They are slowly seeding themselves into the cracks. Sun shade, they grow everywhere. Want some?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-07-11 05:24:42

Linda, we have painted leaf in our gardens. They do reseed and spread themselves around but with enough competition from other native species (grasses, sedges and forbs) they do not take over the whole garden, but fill in some bare spots including sidewalk cracks. They are easily pulled from areas where they are not wanted. Many (most?) native plants will behave differently in cultivation than in the wild since it's an unnatural environment. Increasing competition from other plants will help contain it.

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