MEDITERRANEAN SPURGE

Euphorbia characias

Spurge Family [Euphorbiaceae]

month8may month8jun month8june month8jul month8july

status
statusZneophyte
 
flower
flower8green
 
inner
inner8yellow
veneta
inner
inner8beetroot
characias
morph
morph8actino
 
petals
petalsZ0
 
stem
stem8round
 
stem
stem8hollow
 
stem
stem8milkysap stem8milkylatex
 
toxicity
toxicityZhigh
 
contact
contactZmedium
 

Sub-species veneta (formerly ssp. Wulfenii)

22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Near the spaceship some escape from gardens into the wild.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Grows to 1.5m, mainly in gardens.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Has a long flowering spike of inflorescences and a slightly longer lower part mostly covered in long narrow leaves, with a bare stem below that where older leaves have dropped off.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The flowering head can be both long and wide.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The flowering head grows just above the youngest leaves.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Birds-eye view.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Showing the 2-tiered fractal nature of the inflorescences.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The outer tier of inflorescences.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The inflorescences are hairy mostly on the outside (underside when opened) , but also on the nearly-spherical ovary (here with three shrivelled styles emerging from it).


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
  The inflorescences contain both male and female parts.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
 The penultimate inflorescence. The glands (the crescent-shaped cyathia) are green at first, turning yellow, then, orangey to brownish. The horns are long. [On ssp. characias they are dark-red beetroot and the horns are short].


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
  The terminal inflorescences are the youngest, so are not as ripe as the deeper ones.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
  Three long styles emerging from the female flower (ovary). The stamens and anthers of the male are much shorter and can be seen LH lower corner and lower middle.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
A birds-eye view of the centre. Immediately underneath each whorl of eight (or so) flower stalks is a whorl of eight or so rounded bracts. Each whorl is stacked upon the other with a spiral arrangement sometimes discernible from the view of the flowers themselves.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The leaves occupy the lower half of the main stem, and are also in spiral whorls. The leaves themselves are long, narrow and hairy appearing grey-green from above.


22nd April 2014, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The leaves have short white appressed hairs on the upper surface. The underside of the leaf (left) is a yellower shade of pale-green.


1st Aug 2013, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Later in the season in Autumn new plants grow taller, with leaves only on the top part of the plant, with the lowest leaves dropping off in turn leaving the bottom part of the stem bare.


1st Aug 2013, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
New plants grow in Autumn and will lack flowers until the year after.


1st Aug 2013, Blundellsands, Crosby, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The lower exposed half of partly leafy stems of new plants in Autumn can redden in strong sun. The notches are where leaves have fallen off. Note their spiral nature.


Sub-species characias

30th April 2013, Promenade Gardens, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Like dancing ladies with frilly skirts. The flower-head seems to be narrower than ssp. veneta


30th April 2013, Promenade Gardens, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The Author has no clue what these red objects are at the centre of the top whorl of inflorescences.


30th April 2013, Promenade Gardens, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The male flowers have two bifurcated anthers with yellow pollen on the ends. The female flowers have three longer bifurcated styles on the hairy ovary.


30th April 2013, Promenade Gardens, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The crescent-shaped ciathia differ from ssp. veneta in that they are dark-red/beetroot in colour, and have short horns (almost non-existent in these specimens). Note the inter-whorl bracts which are prominent. These have minute points.


30th April 2013, Promenade Gardens, Grange over Sands, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The 'crescentic' objects here are velvety on this specimen (on the others they are glossy) - this may be the cultivar 'Portuguese Velvet'


Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature :

This is an neophyte, a non-native species grown in gardens that sometimes escapes into the wild in the UK, particularly on waste ground and sites of old gardens. It is native to the Eastern Mediterranean.

The stems are biennial, flowering in the second year. The stems, when broken, exude a milky sap which is both poisonous and a skin irritant, especially if the exposed area is subsequently exposed to the sun. Since ancient times it has been used as a cure for warts and other skin defects such as skin cancer or tumours. It is highly tolerant of dry conditions, and can also withstand high salinity, hence it thrives close to the sea at Blundellsands, on the Sefton Coast.

There are two sub-species that were introduced and naturalised in the UK:

  • (Euphorbia characias ssp. characias) which has yellow/orange crescentic shapes (the cyathia) with longer horns and comes from Portugal.
  • (Euphorbia characias ssp. veneta) [Formerly Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii] which has purple/beetroot coloured crescentic shapes with shorter horns and is native in Southern France to Anatolia.
The cyathia contain nectar glands.

Many differing garden cultivars are sold. It is highly likely that the above represent at least one of these cultivars.

DITERPENOIDS

The plant contains a widespread variety of flavonoids and thirteen oxygenated polycyclic diterpenoids. The diterpenoids are based on Atisane, Abietane, Pimarane and Kaurane skeletons. The ent-Abietanolides (glycosides of ent-Abietane) present are active on the central nervous system.


Abietane and Pimarane are isomeric with each other.



Atisane and Kaurane are isomeric with each other, but not with the upper two. All four share a more basic skeletal structure, the name of which the Author has yet to ascertain.



It also contains diterpenes of the Jatrophane type such as (-)-15-O-Acetyl-3-O-PropionylCharaciol, which is named after Mediterranean Spurge (characias).


  Euphorbia characias  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Euphorbiaceae  

BSBI Distribution Maps
 family8Spurge family8Euphorbiaceae
 veneta
 family8Spurge family8Euphorbiaceae
 sens. lat.
 family8Spurge family8Euphorbiaceae
 characias
genus8Euphorbia
Euphorbia
(Spurges)

MEDITERRANEAN SPURGE

Euphorbia characias

Spurge Family [Euphorbiaceae]