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Euphorbiaceae: Spurge Family Plant Identification Characteristics.

Plants of the Spurge Family

      If you have seen a poinsettia at Christmas then you have met a member of the Spurge family. The colorful bracts are common in the family. North American members of the Spurge family are succulent plants with milky juice and simple, but varied, leaves. The non-showy flowers are mostly regular and unisexual, with staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers appearing separately on the same plant. (The male flowers may be immediately surrounding the female flowers.) There are 0 or 5 sepals and petals, plus 5, 10, or numerous (up to 1,000!) stamens. The ovary is positioned superior, and consists of 3 (sometimes 2 or 4) united carpels (syncarpous) with the partition walls usually present, forming an equal number of chambers. It matures as a capsule with one seed per cell. The colorful bracts may be mistaken for sepals or petals.

      Worldwide, there are 290 genera and 7,500 species. It is the fourth or fifth largest family of plants. About 25 genera are found in North America. The poinsettia (Euphorbia), croton (Codiaeum), and crown-of-thorns are ornamental plants from this family. The Hevea tree provides rubber. Castor oil comes from Ricinus communis. Aleurites is the source for tung oil. Tapioca (i.e.: tapioca pudding) is made from the starchy roots of Manihot. The Mexican jumping bean (Sebastiana) is another member of the family; the "jumping" is caused by the rapid movements of a moth larvae inside the seed. Most members of this family contain an acrid latex (which is made into rubber) with poisonous alkaloids. Saponins are also common in the family.

Key Words: Plants often with colored bracts and milky juice.

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Euphorbia esula. Leafy Spurge.

Euphorbia esula. Leafy Spurge. Missoula, Montana. Leafy spurge is an invasive weed imported from Eurasia. For more information go to leafy spurge ecology and control.

Foraging the Mountain West
Foraging the Mountain West
Ricinus communis. Castor Bean.

Ricinus communis. Castor Bean.

Ricinus communis. Castor Bean.

Ricinus communis. Castor Bean.

Ricinus communis. Castor Bean.

Ricinus communis. Castor Bean. Castor bean is native to the southeastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, and India, but is now widespread throughout tropical regions of the world.

Ricinus communis. Castor Bean.

Ricinus communis. Castor Bean. Photogaphed in Mexico.

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Spurge Family pictures

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
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Botany in a Day
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