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Wild Poinsettia, Mexican Fireplant, Fire on the Mountain, Painted Euphorbia, Desert Poinsettia - Euphorbia cyathophora


Family: Euphorbiaceae - Spurge family Genus Common Name: Spurge Native Status: NativeDicot Annual Perennial Herb
Euphorbia cyathophora - Wild Poinsettia, Mexican Fireplant, Fire on the Mountain, Painted Euphorbia, Desert Poinsettia. This plant is one of a few Euphorbias called “Wild Poinsettia” as a common name – the well-known Christmas Poinsettia is also a Euphorbia species (E. pulcherimma.) While researching for the species name, I came away confused, but after finding this in the online Flora of China, I understood that confusion: “There has been much confusion in the literature between this and the following species, Euphorbia heterophylla.” Based on the Flora of China description, Euphorbia heterophylla may have a pale green marking at the base of the upper leaves where Euphorbia cyathophora has the distinctive red markings which lead to the “Fire on the Mountain” common name. There may also be a color distinction between the glandular stipules on the leaves - brownish on E. cyahtophora, conspicuously purple on E. heterophylla.

This confusion between the two species apparently has led some publications to list Euphorbia heterophylla as a synonym of Euphorbia cyathophora and vice versa, and also to publish photos of one of the species as being the other. Of course, with all this confusion, Flora of China could be incorrect as well. Apparently at least one form or variety of Euphorbia heterophylla - var cyathophora - is what is now classified as the separate species Euphorbia cyathophora.

Euphorbia cyathophora can have either the violin-shaped and ovate leaves shown on the plant here, or long, linear leaves I've seen on other photos. I originally thought this was the easy differentiator between the two species, but from what I have found so far, that was an incorrect assumption.

Found in:
AL, AR, AZ, CA, FL, GA, HI, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NM, OH, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI

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Euphorbia cyathophora

Distribution of Euphorbia cyathophora in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 28 May 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: Coquina Baywalk on Leffis Key, Manatee County, FL Date: 2011-December-22Photographer: Gerald C. Williamson
Nikon D7000
The red marks on the uppermost leaves of Euphorbia cyathophora give the plant some of its common names. The plant can grow up to about 3 feet tall. Note the violin shaped upper leaves on this plant. The leaves are usually alternate but may be opposite in some cases.

The blossoms themselves are quite small and relatively unobtrusive. They are technically "cyathia" - what appears to be an individual flower of plants in the genus Euphorbia is actually a compound structure that contains a female flower and several male flowers.
Euphorbia cyathophora

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer