Common name: cypress spurge, graveyard spurge, graveyard weed, squib-knocket, welcome-to-our-home, graveyard-moss, quack-salver's-spurge

    Scientific name: Euphorbia cyparissias

    Family: Euphorbiaceae


    Europe, from England and Mediterranean region to central Siberia

  • DESCRIPTION:Herbaceous or semi-woody perennial forb; 6-18 in (12-45 cm) tall; roots long horizontal and vertical, with fine or short horizontal roots; leaves stalkless, alternate, linear to lance- shaped; yellow or yellowish green leaves seen near inflorescence; stems green to yellow green and hairless; leaves and stems emit milky sap when broken; fruit comprised of three capsules 2 to 3 mm long; flowers are white/yellow to greenish yellow clusters at ends of stems; flowers once or twice between March and August throughout range; E. cyparissias differs from introduced congener Euphorbia esula by having shorter and thinner leaves, shorter overall plant height and more upper plant branching.

    Cypress spurge is considered a threat to native plant species due to its ability to form monocultures, especially in sensitive natural environments such as dunes and grasslands. Plants contain a toxic latex (emitted as a milky sap when plant is damaged) that in humans causes eye, mouth and GI tract irritation and can cause contact dermatitis. Ingestion of Cypress spurge by cattle or horses may cause death.


    Cypress spurge is found in all states except: NV, NM, AZ, FL, LA, MS, HI, AK. It is considered invasive in: CO, CT, MA, NJ, NY, RI, WI.


    Cypress spurge is found primarily on dry to moist calcareous, sandy or gravelly soil. It is a frequent inhabitant of roadsides, meadows, pastures and cemeteries, and is also found in dunes, panes, coastal headlands, grasslands, and calcareous glades. This species generally does not grow in heavily forested or heavily cultivated soil.


    Cypress spurge was intentionally introduced, probably as a sterile diploid, to the United States and Canada for use as an ornamental in the 1860s. Later, the accidental introduction of a fertile tetraploid occurred, either as an ornamental that subsequently escaped, or possibly through transport of field products and machinery infested with seeds. Hybridization, introgression, and ensuing mosaicism have increased the genetic variability of Euphorbia species (including E. cyparissias) and complicated control efforts.


    Cypress spurge can reproduce by seed and also vegetatively by lateral root buds. Plants may flower twice within one year. Populations can establish monocultures.

  • MANAGEMENT OPTIONS:Sheep and goat grazing may control the growth of this species (CNAP, 2000). Mowing may actually increase density (Jordan et al, 2002), while fire increases the spread (Jordan et al, 2002). Hand pulling can be used on small populations. The herbicides 2,4-D, picloram, glyphosate (Roundup) have all been individually used.

    Several biocontrol agents have been studied for their impact on Cypress spurge. The beetle Apthona flava was successful in six of ten sites in Rhode Island. Aphthona nigriscutis Foudras is known to damage Cypress spurge in Europe, as is the beetle Thamnurgus euphorbiae Kuster, and the fly Pegomya argyrocephala Meigen. The aphids Acyrthosiphon cyparissiae and Aphis euphorbiae were studied in Canada, while leafy spurge hawk moth (Hyles euphorbiae) was studied in Ontario, Canada and in New York. The rust fungus Uromyces dictyosperma is also currently under study for use on cypress spurge.

    The most effective method of preventing the spread of Cypress spurge is to maintain healthy native communities, minimize disturbance to an area, minimize seed dispersal by eradicating newly established plants, and to employ some combination of control efforts with established populations.

    Three forms of Cypress spurge are known to exist: a fertile diploid (2n=20), a sterile diploid, and a fertile tetraploid (4n=40). This species is a strong outbreeder. Hybridization and introgression with other Euphorbia species can occur, for example with the hexaploid form of leafy spurge (E. esula).

  • ECONOMIC THREAT:Currently the impact of Cypress spurge is greatest in Northeastern United States and Canada, due to destruction of hay crops through the monotypic spread of this species. Cypress spurge is also a threat to pasture land since it is inedible for grazing cattle and horses. There is also a threat to the natural aesthetic through the loss of native species and biological diversity and ensuing economic losses from decreases in tourism.

    In Massachusetts, Cypress spurge threatens native plants diversity, especially in sensitive areas such as dunes, pannes, grasslands, and sandplains.


    Hen and chicks, moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora), alyssum, phlox, ornamental oregano (Origanum laevigatum), and some stonecrop species (Sedum spp.).


    Randie Lyn Brisson, University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA

    Asilian, A and G. Faghigi, Severe irritant contact dermatitis from Cypress spurge, Contact Dermatitis 51 (1): 37-39 JUL 2004

    Campobasso G, Terragitti G, Colonnelli E, Spencer NR, Host specificity of Thamnurgus euphorbiae Kuster (Coleoptera : Scolytidae): A potential biolog ical control agent of leafy spurge Euphorbia esula L. (Euphorbiaceae) in the United States, Environmental Entomology 33 (6): 1673-1680 DEC 2004

    Colorado Natural Areas Program, Creating an integrated weed management plan: a handbook for owners and managers of lands with natural values, 2000

    Faubert, H, and R. A. Casagrande, Cypress Spurge, In: Biological control of invasive plants of the eastern U.S. 2002

    Gassmann, A, and D. Schroeder, The search for effective biological control agents in Europe: history and lessons from leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) and cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias), Biological Control 5, 466-477, 1995

    Harris, P, Classical biological control of weeds, biology of target weeds leafy and cypress spurge, Euphorbia esula, and Euphorbia cyparissias, Lethbridge Research Centre

    Jordan, M J, B. Lund, W.A. Jacobs, Effects of mowing, herbicide and fire on Artemisia vulgaris, Lespedeza cuneata, Euphorbia cyparissias at the Hempstead Plains grassland, Long Island New York, 2002

    Littlefield, Larry J, Plant pathogenic fungi as potential biocontrol agents for leafy spurge

    McClay, A S and P. Harris, Biological control of leafy spurge in Canada

    Proceedings of 1984 Leafy Spurge Symposium June 27-28, 1984, Dickinson, ND

    Rhode Island Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension, Annual Report of Accomplishments and Results 2003

    Schaeffer, Jurgen R and Shirley Gerhardt, The impact of introgressive hybridization on the weediness of leafy spurge, 1989 Leafy Spurge Symposium