Flowering Spurge


Euphorbia corollata

There are about 48 native euphorbias found in the continental US, and 27 or so alien.  Worldwide, there are almost 2000 Euphorbia species. Most of the native American species are not particularly showy, but this little charmer is exceptional.  The plant can grow as tall as three feet, with an open, airy habit.  It prefers the dry soils of open, sunny areas, and seemingly loves the bedrock terraces of the Potomac Gorge, growing right out of small pockets of sandy soil on the rocks.

The name “spurge” has the same Latin root as “purge”, for the reason you might expect: some species were once used medicinally for cleansing.  Of the bowels.


Those white petals aren’t really petals, as I wrote last year.  They’re bracts: modified leaves that look like petals, often functioning to attract pollinators to the tiny flowers within.

Euphorbias are complicated and interesting.  As a matter of fact, there’s a website devoted to them.  If you’re interested in details about the unique floral characteristics, check out the explanation here. It’s fascinating.



I’m not sure what’s so appealing about them.  As with cranefly orchid, I would love to have a kimono made with a fabric printed with a flowering spurge design.  They seem to have a Japanese aesthetic about them.  I can’t quite explain it.

Speaking of Japanese aesthetics, they’re a good subject for bokeh.


Flower of the Day: Flowering Spurge

Euphorbia corollata; Euphorbiaceae (spurge family)


Coreopsis, Erigeron, Eupatorium, Helenium, Helianthus, Hieracium, Rudbeckia, Solidago, Vernonia  – this is the season of the aster family.  It was so refreshing to see something from another family growing on the rocky bluffs above the river.


This three-foot tall perennial herb will grow in a variety of soil conditions, and can be found in its native range from the Atlantic west to the Great Plains, from Ontario south to Florida.  The five white petals you see are actually bracts (modified leaves, often brightly colored); the flowers are tiny little things in the center.  Two other well-known plants whose bracts are mistaken for petals: flowering dogwood, and this Euphorbia’s very popular cousin poinsettia (E. pulcherrima).

Here’s what it looks like about a week before blooming:


 I love how the very tips of the upper leaves turn white.