ORRIN MORRIS: Spurge species can be a challenge to identify

LEAFY SPURGE Euphorbia esula

LEAFY SPURGE Euphorbia esula

I hope your experiences during this spring have enriched your spiritual journey. Mine have.

The study of the Apostle Paul’s discourse on love has caused me to rethink many of my attitudes, activities and relationships. First Corinthians 13:8 reminds us “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

One spring a friend gave me a cutting of a wildflower and asked me to identify it. He said it was spreading in his garden and would probably become a problem. It was like nothing I had seen before so I went to my many books but found little help except that it may be in the spurge family.

Next I turned to the Internet site for the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Plants. There I found two species that approximate several of the mystery plant’s characteristics. However, neither have been identified in Georgia by the USDA.

The important fact I did learn while searching the Internet was that the acidic milky sap is toxic to farm livestock and extensive measures need to be taken for eradication of several invasive spurges.


Euphorbia esula

I chose this species of spurge as the best fit. My assumption is that one or both of these things have occurred: migrating birds dropped the seeds, or the species secretively exists farther South than thought.

Whatever the case, this spurge has a five-three-two leaf configuration as illustrated. Along the stem the narrow lance-shaped leaves alternate up the stem until they meet the five-leaf whorl.

At that point five stalks form where each leaf is attached to the stem. Those stalks are about 4 inches long to where three more leaves form a second whorl. From that point, pairs of bracts appear holding pairs of yellow-green blossoms.

The inset is a top-down view of the plant showing a close-up view of the blooms.

According to the USDA website, the leafy spurge has been identified in southern Canada, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and as far south as Pennsylvania.

The second species that meets several of the mystery plant’s characteristics is the glade spurge (Euphorbia purpurea). It seemed like the best fit, at first examination, except for two factors: the leaves of this spurge are more rounded and the closest sighting, according to the USDA, is three mountainous counties in North Carolina, none of which border Georgia.

Fascinating? Life is like that. Things we thought were impossible may occur. People whose religious heritage seems strange to me became friends this spring. Thus, my life has been enriched by their culture, including their exotic food.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.