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Leafy Spurge

Leafy spurge flowers from May-June. Photo credit: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International,

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Common Name: Leafy spurge
Scientific Name: Euphorbia esula
Origin: Asia and Europe


Leafy spurge is a perennial plant that grows up to 4 feet tall. Its leaves are blue-gray, simple and oppositely arranged. Its greenish-yellow flowers are unique and consist of 2-3 petal-like bracts surrounding a small cluster of flowers. Three seeds are enclosed in a smooth capsule that forcefully ejects the seeds up to 20 feet when mature. Leafy spurge exudes a milky white sap when its leaves, stem or roots are broken.


Leafy spurge is primarily found in open and disturbed areas such as pastures, grasslands and roadsides, but can also be found along streams and open woodlands. Leafy spurge tolerates a variety of soil conditions and grows best in full or partial sun.


Leafy spurge displaces native vegetation, decreases wildlife habitat and inhibits the growth of nearby plants. Leafy spurge is toxic to cattle and horses, and hay from infested fields cannot be sold. Skin contact with the sap may cause rashes.


Manual removal is not recommended due to this plant’s ability to resprout from an extensive root system. Mechanical removal can reduce seed production but is not recommended for long-term control unless paired with chemical treatment which is effective in early spring or fall. For extensive infestations, several biocontrol options are available including leafy spurge flea beetles (Apthona spp.) and the leafy spurge tip gall midge (Spurgia esulae).
CAUTION: Contact with leafy spurge sap may cause rashes. When working with leafy spurge, wear personal protective equipment to limit contact with the sap.

Regional Distribution

Early Detection

WNY PRISM Priority

Tier 3 – Containment

Invasive Species Priorities – Tier Chart


Leafy spurge was introduced to North America through contaminated seed shipments. Leafy spurge spreads vegetatively and its seed is dispersed by wind and water. Seeds are also transported by wildlife, vehicles, mowers and through contaminated hay and soil.

Leafy spurge is a prohibited species in New York State – for more information on Prohibited and Regulated Species, visit

Additional Resources

Minnesota Department of Agriculture: Leafy Spurge
Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board