Leafy spurge is a long living perennial with an incredibly vigorous root system. The extensive roots of the spurge plant can reach depths of 30 feet and contain nutrients that will sustain the plant for long periods of time. The brownish roots have pink buds on them, each of which develops into new shoots. This allows the plant to reproduce by seed and by root. Seedlings resemble small pine trees and closely resemble yellow toadflax seedlings as well. All parts of the plant, when broken off, will produce a milky sap. Stems of the plant can grow up to three feet in height and have alternate, narrow, smooth margined leaves. Leaves and stems are a bluish-green in color. Depending on climate, flowers will start blooming in early June. Flowers are a yellow-green color and arranged in clusters containing seven to ten flowers. The showy, heart shaped yellow bracts surround the flower. When this plant goes to seed, it produces grayish-brown oblong seeds in a three-celled capsule. At maturity, these capsules explode launching seeds up to fifteen feet from the parent plant.
Look for dark roots with pink buds on them, and break apart any part of this plant and you’ll find a milky white latex. Once recognized, leafy spurge is easily identified by its distinctive yellow-green flowers.
Leafy spurge is a flexible plant that tolerates extremely dry to extremely wet soil conditions. It can often be found along waterways and irrigation ditches, but also found in draws and sagebrush. It grows in a wide variety of soil types but is most abundant in sandy or gravelly soils and in arid conditions.
Currently found in the following counties:
All counties in Montana
Leafy spurge is toxic to cattle and horses; however, targeted grazing with sheep has proven to be a very effective integrated control measure. Leafy spurge first appeared in the U.S. in 1827 in Massachusetts and has doubled its coverage every decade for the past 100 years.
Commonly Confused Plants
- Yellow toadflax at early stages
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Photo Credits: Brian Ostwald, Kelvin Chau; Doug Waylett; Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org; Terry Glase, Plains, Montana