Weeds of Wednesday: Fiddler’s Spurge

Fiddler’s spurge (Euphorbia heterophylla) is an annual weed (or wildlflower) that is native to the southeastern United States as well as tropical and subtropical America. Mexican fireplant, wild poinsettia, Japanese poinsettia, hypocrite poinsettia, and desert poinsettia are other common names. We occasionally see this plant growing at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, and I recently encountered it in a landscape bed in a low area in downtown Vero Beach in front of the Heritage Center. In dappled shade fiddler’s spurge gets lanky.

Its species name, heterophylla, means differently leaved. Its leaves are very variable in shape, and sometimes are violin-shaped, hence the common name fiddler’s spurge.

Its genus name, Poinsettia, bespeaks its flowers. Its tiny flowers (cyathia) lack petals and are yellowish five-lobed cups that are attractive to pollinators. Flowering usually occurs from August through October.

The showy part of commercial Christmas poinsettias, a plant native to Mexico and South America, is their colorful bracts. Painted leaf, another native member of the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae, looks like fiddler’s spurge with colorful bracts.

A fiddler’s spurge plant can produce up to 4,500 seeds per year. Its tiny seeds are deltoid shaped and vary from brown to grey in color.

Fiddler’s spurge grows best in full sun but will grow in substantial shade. It can form a dense monoculture and can out-compete crops including cocoa, coffee, cotton, maize, papaya, soybean, sugarcane, tea, and others. It is the host to crop viruses like Euphorbia mosaic virus, tomato yellow leaf curl virus, and mungbean yellow mosaic virus.

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