Weeds of Wednesday: Paintedleaf

Paintedleaf, fire-on-the-mountain, painted spurge, and wild poinsettia are among the common named given to the native, but weedy, spurge now ascribed the botanical name Euphorbia cyanthophora. Spurges belong to the family Euphorbiaceae, a very large and diverse plant family with more than 6,700 species. Euphorbia is one of the largest genera of flowering plants and includes approximately 2,000 species. 

The poinsettia of commerce (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is of Mexican origin. Its flowers are minute. Its red, white, or pink bracts, modified leaves, are its showy parts. The same is true of the native painted leaf, but only a small portion of its bracts are colorful.

The species name of paintedleaf, cyanthophora, refers to its floral structure, a cyathia, a small cup-like structure that contains many male flowers and one female flower deep inside.

Look closely at yellowish kidney shaped structures atop the cyathia that contain nectar. Officially, they are not part of the flower and are called extra-floral nectaries. They are visited by honeybees (Apias mollifier), butterflies. and other pollinators.

Its fruit is a three-lobed capsule with one tiny black seed per capsule, which opens explosively to propel the seeds away from the “mother” plant. In sunny, disturbed areas, this plant can be weedy in Florida. At the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, it seems well-contained by the profusion of other native plants.

Its native range is wide and includes North America, the West Indies, Mexico, central America, and south America. In Hawaii, parts of Australian, and the Pacific Islands, this plant has naturalized and is regarded as an aggressive weed.

A short-lived annual, paintedleaf has an erect habit and can grow to be up to 3′ tall. It is a very variable and successful plant. Take care not to fixate on leaf shape. Though most plants have alternative lobed leaves, some individuals have long linear absolutely unlobed leaves.

To my delight, this narrow-leaved paintedleaf has “volunteered” in a disturbed area next to our mailbox right next to one with deeply lobed leaves …

Beauty indeed is the eye of the beholder. My husband definitely considers this plant to be a weed, even if it is our native poinsettia.

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