Euphorbia paralias

Spurge Family [Euphorbiaceae]  

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22nd Feb 2019, Ainsdale sands, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Very early in the season. There were several regenerating clumps of Sea Spurge with their red stems and covered in short near-linear leaves but without the inflorescence at the top - it is far too early in the season for flowers.

22nd Feb 2019, Ainsdale sands, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Very early in the season. The stems can be branched a few times (nearest stems). The leaves are far fewer nearer the ground but much denser higher up initially.

22nd Feb 2019, Ainsdale sands, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Very early in the season. Last years fawn to dirty-brown coloured open seed cases, presumably all empty of seeds now. The seed cases have three sides. All the leaves on the red stem of these older plants have dropped off leaving marks up the stem where they once were. Meanwhile, newer stems are densely populated with leaves all the way around making them look similar to fir cones.

19th July 2007, North Shore, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness. Photo: © RWD
A profusion of Sea Spurge (tall and thin) and Portland Spurge (shorter and squat) on the sea shore in amongst even taller clumps of reeds. Black Coombe on mainland in background.

3rd June 2010, North Walney, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
By showing Sea Spurge (left) and Portland Spurge (right) side by side the differences are immediately obvious: Sea spurge is taller, mostly un-branched, and has much larger flowers in a flat-topped spread (although both can have red stems).

7th June 2005, Ainsdale Sands, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Likes to grown in sand by the sea. Younger specimens not well branched.

7th Aug 2009, Hall Road, Southport. Photo: © RWD
A typically stance with bare reddish stems near the ground, whorls of glaucous narrowish leaves covering the mid-stem, and is branched only near the top. [Unlike Sea Spurge, Portland Spurge has a greater propensity for reddened stems and leaves].

7th June 2005, Ainsdale Sands, Southport. Photo: © RWD
Very young plants are a single stem covered in succulent-like glaucous green leaves, narrower on the stem, and widening higher up. The leaves mid-way up conceal the thick stem, from which, when broken, a toxic and caustic milky fluid will exude. The lowest part of the stems is often red and bereft of leaves, having shed them.

5th Aug 2009, Lytham St Annes, Fylde Coast, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Older specimens are well branched, usually into two lots of two off the main stem.

7th June 2005, Ainsdale Sands, Southport. Photo: © RWD
The main stem terminates in multiple flower heads, each one of which has one female flower (at the tip of the tri-bulged developing ovary and several minute male flowers.

5th Aug 2009, Lytham St Annes, Fylde Coast, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The tri-bulged ovary (fruit) has a coarse rough grainy texture and three encircling indented lines.

5th Aug 2009, Lytham St Annes, Fylde Coast, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The flat lobes (actually glands), green when immature (top right), golden yellow when mature, have quadrilateral-symmetry and only very short irregularly-placed horns.

7th Aug 2009, Ainsdale Sand Dunes, Sefton Coast, Merseyside. Photo: © RWD
Centre: the golden yellow disc (glands) has short irregular horns. Right and left: the developing tri-bulged fruit still has the three stubby short double-pronged styles attached.

7th Aug 2009, Ainsdale Sand Dunes, Sefton Coast, Merseyside. Photo: © RWD
The yellow disc (glands) are actually split into four quadrants, each with short horn. The flowers completely lack petals of any sort.

2nd July 2009, Ainsdale Sand Dunes, Sefton Coast, Merseyside. Photo: © RWD
The disc-shaped four yellow lobes have only short horns. Several tiny yellow spherical stamens poke out from the centre of the four golden yellow glands. The tri-bulged fruit turns brown and more wrinkly when ripe. Three double-pronged styles protrude from top of the fruit.

8th July 2009, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are narrowish and unlike Portland Spurge do not possess a prominent mid-rib on the under-surface. [Stems can be reddened, just like they are more likely to be in Portland Spurge].

8th Sept 2015, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Showing the hierarchical structure of the flowers: From the lowest cyathophylls (cup-shaped grey-green 'bracts') sprouts a central 4-lobed short-horned golden-yellow gland with tiny stamens in its centre through which an ovary with developing fruit and three stigmas protrude. Each side of that two more cyathia sprout. Each cyathium may contain another male plus female flower plus another pair of cyathia... But not infinitum.

8th Sept 2015, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The four lobes of the golden-yellow disc-shaped glands with short but irregular horns along their outer edges. The 'stem' of the ovary protrudes through the centre and folds over, with developing large 3-bulged fruit attached.

8th Sept 2015, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Whilst each unit has but one female flower (the large ovary/fruit plus 3 stigmas) it has several male tiny flowers (the yellow/cream coloured object clustered at the centre of the four golden-yellow glands.

8th Sept 2015, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Several male flowers clustered within the glands, each tiny male flower has but one twinned anther.

8th Sept 2015, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Grains of golden yellow pollen can be found scattered about and on the golden-yellow glands.

8th Sept 2015, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Some have far fewer male flowers. Note the random placement and number of the horns on the golden-yellow glands.

8th Sept 2015, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The fruit has three bulges. Each bulge is divided into two by a shallow circumferential groove. The surface is granulated (as it is on Portland Spurge) but not wrinkled like those of Portland Spurge. The fruit is topped by three short double-pronged styles.

The differences between Sea Spurge and Portland Spurge.
Like Portland Spurge, Sea Spurge grows near the sea. Both have lower stems that tend to redden. Both have the mid part of the stem covered in narrowish leaves. Where they differ is that the stem leaves of Portland Spurge also tend to be both narrower and red, and they also have a prominent mid-rib absent from the stem leaves of Sea Spurge. The flowerheads of Portland Spurge have very long crescent-shaped horns, whereas those in Sea Spurge the horns are much shorter and not crescent-shaped. Also unlike Portland Spurge, Sea Spurge does not have minutely pointed leaves. Sea Spurge has rougher fruits.

Sun Spurge contains toxic and irritant Phorbol esters. The milky sap is caustic to the skin and can cause dermatitis. Besides the compounds detailed below, Sun Spurge contains a whole series of complex tannins collectively known as Euphorbins, but individually named as Euphorbin-A, -B, -C, -D and Euphorbin-E as well as several steroidal terpenoids: 0.2% β-Sitosterol, 0.12% Ursolic Acid, 0.23% β=Amyrin, 0.01% Uvaol and 0.03% Betulin. Hyperoside, the galactoside of Quercetin is present at 0.12%. It also contains diterpene esters called Paraliane, Paralinone A and Paralinone B, which obtain their name from Sun Spurge (Euphorbia paralias.

The specific epithet paralias does not mean that Sun Spurge will paralyse you (although the sap is toxic) but rather is derived from the Greek 'paralos' meaning 'maritime' sometimes used in the sense 'blue-green like the sea', which it is also.


These diterpenoids from the Segetanane series of diterpenoids are rare and recent discoveries found in the caustic and toxic milky latex or sap of Sea Spurge. They all lack the cyclo-propane ring of the Ingenanes, some of which are also found in Sea Spurge.


Another Ingenane series diterpenoid found in Sea Spurge is Ingenol 3-,20-dibenzoate. OBz is the abbreviation for benzoate.


A diterpenoid belonging to the Tigliane Series found in Sea Spurge, Phorbol 12-Tigliate 13-Decanoate has medical applications as an anti-viral drug against lymphomatic leukaemia and HIV. Note the strained cyclo-propane ring shown in red. A similar drug called Prostratin (12-deoxyphorbol 13-acetate) is used to treat prostrate cancer. Phorbols are named after the Spurge Family (Euphorbiaceae).

A very similar compound (with the only two differences being that the decanoate group is moved to the 12-position from the 13-position shown above, and a smaller acetate group on the 13-position) is known variously as TPA or PMA. TPA is used both in the biological laboratory to activate protein kinase C, and therapeutically as a pharmacological drug in myolectic leukaemia patients. This happens because Phorbol esters resemble DiAcylGlycerol (DAG) which is a signalling molecule within mammals which activates protein kinase C (PKC). PKC is important in the human body and anything which inhibit it will trigger many usually harmful cellular responses, including cell division. TPA is found naturally in some Spurges, but it is unclear whether it is found in Sea Spurge.


A diterpenoid belonging to the Paraliane Series (which are named after Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias in which they were first discovered) is Paraliane itself. The Paraliane series have three 5-membered rings and one of six.


Both Euphol and Euphorbol are steroidal terpenoids found in Sun Spurge. They are both derived from the universal plant steroid and pre-cursor, Cycloartenol. They are named after the Spurge Family (Euphorbiaceae).


Betulin is a lupane triterpene found in Sea Spurge at 0.03% and in the bark of Birch trees where it comprises up to 35% of the dry weight. Indeed, the Birch Tree Family, Betula is where it derives its name. Betulin is directly related to Betulinic Acid, which is the more biologically active of the two. Betulin can be easily converted to the more effective Betulinic Acid in the laboratory. Both possess anti-malarial, anti-retroviral, hepatoprotective and anti-inflammatory properties. Betulinic Acid is also effective against tumours of various sorts. Betulin has been known of for 200 years, but its almost miraculous healing properties were only recently re-discovered. Both are available as extracts from Birch Bark from alternative therapy shops. Other derivatives of Betulinic Acid are now made in the laboratory from Betulin (using Birch bark, rather than Sea Spurge, which contains far less) for pharmaceutical uses. Betulinic Acid is related to Oleanolic Acid.

See Menyanthoside, a glycoside based upon Betulinic Acid.

Hybridizes with: Portland Spurge.

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Euphorbia paralias

Spurge Family [Euphorbiaceae]  

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