Euphorbia dentata (Toothed Spurge)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Euphorbiaceae (Spurge)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry sandy soil; waste areas, agricultural margins
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:9 to 24 inches
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] Flowers are tiny and indistinct in dense clusters at tips of stems and branches. A small cup, 1/8 inch across, holds the male and female flowers in the center. There are no visible petal appendages, rather finely fringed lobe margins with typically 1 to several olive colored glands. The male flower anthers are creamy white to yellow, the single female flower in the center is green, the clump of styles atop a round, three part ovary on a short stalk that extends out from the flower center. The leafy bracts surrounding the cluster are typically white at the base, giving the cluster a soft glow. 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: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are opposite except the lowest leaves which are alternate, ½ to 3½ inches long, narrowly lance-elliptic to egg-shaped, tapered to a slender stalk. Edges are mostly coarsely toothed, occasionally smooth, often a bit wavy.

[photo of narrow leaves with red splotches] Leaves are green, often spattered with red spots. Surfaces are softly hairy (pubescent) or with scattered spreading hairs that are denser on the underside. Stems are finely hairy above to wooly towards the base, erect with spreading branches, green to reddish.  Leaves and stems exude milky sap when broken.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a three lobed, stalked capsule, 1/5 inch wide, that develops rapidly from the center of the cyathium, initially hanging down, becoming erect at maturity. Seed is light gray-brown, four angled, egg-shaped with tubercule-like projections.


Toothed spurge (formerly known as Poinsettia dentata) is highly variable, often related to growing conditions, being more robust on moister sites. While both the Bell herbarium and the DNR list it as native to Minnesota (as both historical and distribution records suggest), some references would question its native North American range and both the USDA and BONAP list it as not even present in the state, but list an apparently similar looking non-native, Euphorbia davidii, present in MN instead. The difference seems to be stiff hairs on E. davidii vs. soft hairs on E. dentata (in either case we'll go with the Bell and DNR on this one). Regardless, it its relatively frequent in metro lanscape margins and waste places and easily identifiable, its structure is strongly reminiscent of the holiday poinsettia to which it is closely related.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dakota, Hennepin and Ramsey counties.


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

Posted by: Jason - Mankato, adjacent Highland Park
on: 2013-08-11 21:14:59

Growing out of fractured asphalt on a closed road.

Posted by: Nancy B - Dakota County, between Co. Hwy 94 and RR track.
on: 2016-10-04 13:56:21

Growing in open disturbed area along RR track. A native prairie remnant is located between the RR track and Co. Hwy 94. This location is just west of Alta Avenue.

Posted by: Jason H - Stillwater
on: 2017-10-05 18:06:18

Abandoned zephyr lot on the north end of main street. A new one for me.

Posted by: Victoria Ranua - Shakopee, Scott County
on: 2023-11-14 17:02:38

This is the favorite "weed" in my yard- an oak savannah remnant.

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