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Family: Euphorbiaceae

Kingdom: Plantae Rank: Family Parent: Euphorbiales Status: Valid

Common Names:

  • SPURGE FAMILY - English, United States of America

Morphological Description

Family Recognition in the Field: Ours mostly herbs (a few small shrubs and 1 tree) often with milky sap and leaves usually alternate or less often opposite (mostly in Chamaesyce); ovary 3- celled, superior, typically developing into a capsule with 3 lobes or sections; flowers often unisexual, sometimes highly reduced.

Diagnosis: Ours annual or perennial herbs, shrubs, or small trees with watery or milky juice; leaves alternate or less often opposite, simple (sometimes so deeply lobed as to appear compound, occasionally some leaves divided into palmate leaflets), entire, toothed, or lobed, with or without stipules; flowers axillary or terminal, solitary, in racemes, spikes, or heads, various in structure, unisexual or bisexual; perianth absent, or present and of 1 type of part only, or of both sepals and petals; stamens 1-many; pistil 1, usually 3-celled and forming a 3-angled or 3-lobed ovary (a few species with these parts reduced to 2 or 1); ovary superior; fruit a capsule (sometimes considered a capsular-schizocarp), usually 3-seeded, or in 1 species of Croton, an achene.


Notes: A huge (8,100 species in 313 genera), cosmopolitan, but especially tropical family; vegetatively they vary from herbs to shrubs, lianas, large trees, or succulents; often there are specialized cells or tubes with milky or colored latex. A number are economically important including Aleurites species (TUNG-OIL), Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotzsch (POINSETTIA), Hevea brasiliensis (Juss.) M.ll.Arg. (RUBBER, PARA RUBBER), Manihot esculenta Crantz (MANIOC, CASSAVA, or TAPIOCA), and Ricinus communis L. (CASTOR-BEAN); many other species are used as ornamentals. The latex of Hevea brasiliensis, a native of the Amazon Basin, is obtained ("rubber tapping") by making sloping incisions in the bark and collecting the white liquid in cups attached below the incisions; upon drying in the air or when coagulated by acid, the latex takes on its well known elastic properties. [a PLANT OF TOXIC/ POISONOUS NATURE]. A number of species are poisonous due to the presence of alkaloids and cyanogenic glycosides; others have diterpenoids that can cause irritant dermatitis and may act as co-carcinogens (= promote the action of "sub"-carcinogenic doses of known carcinogens) (Kinghorn 1979; Lampe 1986). In dry areas of the Old World, a number of Euphorbia species are xerophytically adapted and convergent vegetatively with Cactaceae. The common name SPURGE is apparently derived from the Latin word purgare, to purge or cleanse; a number of members of the family are regarded as having cathartic or purgative properties (Tveten & Tveten 1993). (subclass Rosidae)