Although cactus-like in appearance, Euphorbia larica is a actually a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, one of the largest plant groups in the world, comprising around 300 genera and some 7,500 species (2)(3). Often referred to as ‘spurges’, these plants are best known for their unusually simple, highly-reduced flower structure, which is most apparent on plants in the Euphorbiagenus(2). The tiny flowers are aggregated into a specialised inflorescence, called a ‘cyanthium’, which comprises a single female flower surrounded by stamen-bearing male flowers, all of which are encased in a cup-like structure of bracts such that the whole arrangement looks like a single flower (3)(4). This unique structure is present in every Euphorbia plant, but no where else in the entire plant kingdom (5). These succulent plants also exude a milky, often toxic latex when cut, and they also have reduced leaves (2). Euphorbia larica has pencil-like stems and produces a dry capsule that splits explosively when ripe (2)(5).
In many Euphorbia species, the flowers are pollinated by flies, which are attracted to the plant by nectar-producing glands on the cyanthium and by the brightly coloured bracts. Another characteristic feature of all Euphorbia species is the presence of milky latex, or sap, which is secreted by the plant though broken stems, or damaged roots and leaves. Found in all parts of the plant, the latex is usually poisonous, and probably developed to protect the plant from herbivores. Ingestion of the plant is known to cause severe irritation of the mouth and digestive systems, as well as nausea, diarrhoea and swelling, while direct contact with the sap can cause skin irritation, inflammation and blistering (5).
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
An animal that consumes only vegetable matter.
The reproductive shoot of a plant, which bears a group or cluster of flowers.
The male reproductive organ of a flower; comprised of an anther (the pollen-producing organ) and a filament (stalk).
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