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Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge

Summary

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.

Family

Euphorbiaceae

Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge

Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge

Meaning of the Name

Euphorbia
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.
 
x martinii
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.

Incidents

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'.

IMPORTANT NOTE

The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.

 

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Introduction to the A to Z section
Abrus precatorius, rosary pea
Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus, monkshood
Actaea racemosa, black cohosh
Actaea spicata, baneberry
Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Amanita muscaria, fly agaric
Aquilegia atrata, columbine
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood
Arum italicum, Italian cuckoopint
Arum maculatum, cuckoopint
Aspergillus fumigatus
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade
Brugmansia suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Bryonia dioica, bryony
Buxus sempervirens, common box
Camellia sinensis, tea
Cannabis sativa, marijuana
Catha edulis, khat
Chelidonium majus, greater celandine
Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh
Claviceps purpurea, ergot
Clematis vitalba, old man's beard
Colchicum autumnale, naked ladies
Conium maculatum, poison hemlock
Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley
Cynoglossum officinale, hound’s tongue
Daphne mezereon, spurge olive
Datura stramonium, thorn apple, jimsonweed
Datura suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Delphinium, larkspur
Digitalis spp., foxglove
Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum
Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite
Erythroxylum coca, cocaine
Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettia
Fritillaria spp., fritillary
Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop
Hedera helix, common ivy
Helleborus spp., hellebore
Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane
Ilex aquifolium, holly
Jacobaea vulgaris, ragwort
Juniperus communis, common juniper
Laburnum anagyroides, laburnum
Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce
Leucojum aestivum, snowflake
Lithospermum officinale, gromwell
Lolium temulentum, darnel
Malus 'John Downie', crab apple
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake
Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury
Narcissus, daffodil
Nepeta faassenii, catmint
Nerium oleander, oleander
Nicotiana sylvestris, tobacco
Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort
Papaver somniferum, opium poppy
Pastinaca sativa, parsnip
Polygonatum odoratum, angular Solomon's seal
Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
Pulsatilla vulgaris, pasque flower
Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup
Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus radicans, poison ivy
Ricinus communis, castor oil plant
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Ruta graveolens, rue
Salix alba, white willow
Salvia divinorum, sage
Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap
Senecio jacobaea, ragwort
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade
Solanum melongena, aubergine
Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut
Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
Symphytum spp., comfrey
Taxus baccata, yew
Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy
Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander
Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
Veratrum album, white hellebore
Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree