This site uses botanical names. Click here for an A to Z common name to botanical name converter.
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Its unusual structure makes it a popular plant with flower arrangers but the temporary blindness its latex sap can cause means it must be handled with care. Most of the information on this page is applicable to all species and varieties of Euphorbia.
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Meaning of the Name
Named for Euphorbus, the 1st century Greek physician to King Juba II of Numidia or Mauritania depending on which source you read. These two adjacent African kingdoms are part of modern Algeria. A literal translation could be 'plenty of food' but that seems an odd name to ascribe to a poisonous genus.
The ‘x’ in a plant name denotes a cross and usually means an artificially created plant with the name of the creator following. It is said, however, that E. x martinii is a naturally-occurring hybrid from southern France between E. characias and E. amygdaloides.
Common Names and Synonyms
red spurge, Martin's spurge.
How Poisonous, How Harmful?
The milky latex which exudes from the cut stems is believed to contain a resin, an alkaloid, a glycoside and a dihydroxycoumarin. The full nature of the latex is not understood.
Though ingestion of the latex could be fatal and burning of the skin can result if the latex is left in place, the most usual problem resulting from Euphorbia spp. is inflammation of the eyes and, occasionally, temporary blindness resulting from contact.
In September 2012, a woman in Indiana was tidying up her back garden and got the latex sap from an unnamed species of Euphorbia on her face and in her eyes. She described the burning pain in her eyes as worse than the pain of giving birth and said she felt as though acid had been poured onto her face.
A number of people have spoken of suffering eye inflammation after handling the plant.
A woman said that she had cut back a rockery version of Euphorbia. The stem was very hard and when she cut into it the sap squirted up to her right eye. Her face became swollen, ‘it looked square’, and her vision became very poor. Her husband said that, after a few days, something which looked like a fish scale came off her eye.
A man reported being blind for four days after clearing a large patch of Euphorbia from the garden.
In American Medicinal Plants, Charles F. Millspaugh says that a number of varieties of Euphorbia have been used medicinally, especially as a purgative. Millspaugh notes that, as was common practice in those times, he collects his own plants for use and, in so doing, he has twice suffered momentary blindness from gathering spurge.
Folklore and Facts
Is said to kill fish without making the flesh inedible to humans. Throw any spurge into water and harvest the poisoned fish. It has been known to self seed in gardens and, in one case, it grew close to a pond resulting in the death of all the fish.
According to Pliny the Elder, it was used medicinally in Rome but the juice is so potent that it was collected from a distance but, even so, the collectors found their eyesight affected. One use was against snakebite by making an incision in the top of the head and pouring it on regardless of where the bite was.
The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, has been subject of much dispute about its toxicity. This is now dealt with on a separate page.
It seems that people are assuming that poisonous must mean 'deadly poisonous'.