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Cypress spurge

(Euphorbia cyparissias)

Photo of cypress spurge
Photo credit: Elizabeth J. Czarapata

An herbaceous to semi-woody perennial, with deep roots, that grows to be 6-12” tall. When leaves and stems are broken, white latex sap is released.

Overview

Other names for this plant include:
  • Common names: graveyard spurge
  • Scientific names: Galaarhoeus cyparissias; Tithymalus cyparissias
Ecological threat:
  • Introduced as an ornamental ground cover.
  • Often found invading dry grasslands, pastures, agricultural fields, disturbed areas and right-of-ways.
  • Potentially toxic to horses and cattle and may cause dermatitis on humans.
Overview map of cypress spurge classification in WI
Restricted (orange) counties

Classification in Wisconsin: Restricted

Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for cypress spurge was based upon this literature review [PDF] developed by the department.

Identification

Leaves: Many narrow leaves with pointed tips, about 1” long, are alternate along the stem. Just below the inflorescence, the leaves are in whorls. Hairless and bluish-green in color.

Flowers: Small, yellowish-green, and surrounded by cup-shaped bracts that turn purple-red. Flowers are paired with 10-18 flower clusters forming at the top of stems. Bloom in late spring to through mid-summer. Flowers may persist through August.

Fruits & seeds: Green 3 lobed capsule that contains 1-3 egg-shaped gray seeds that burst out at maturity.

Roots: Rhizomatic and woody with lateral root buds. Can extend up to 15’ deep in the soil and spread laterally up to 35’. Root fragments can give rise to new plants.

Similar species: Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula; invasive) has similar flowers, but is more robust and taller with fewer and longer leaves. Leafy spurge is also listed as a prohibited invasive species in Wisconsin.

Control

Mechanical: Continual cutting and digging are needed to exhaust the root reserves. Not recommended due to extensive root systems.

Chemical: Foliar spray of glyphosate or aminopyralid.

Photos

View cypress spurge pictures in our photo gallery!

Resources

Sources for content:
  • Czarapata, Elizabeth; Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest: an illustrated guide to their identification and control. University of Wisconsin Press. 2005. Pg. 105
  • USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area Forest Health Staff. Weed of the Week: Cypress spurge [exit DNR]
  • Invasive Plant Atlas of New England: Cypress spurge [exit DNR]
Links for more information: