Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Euphorbia terracina
(false caper)



Euphorbia terracina (false caper)


  • Last modified
  • 21 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Threatened Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Euphorbia terracina
  • Preferred Common Name
  • false caper
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Euphorbia terracina can invade cool, wet areas in addition to hot, dry areas. It is an aggressive weed, forming dense monocultures through competition and allelopathy, inhibiting the growth of native plants inc...

  • Principal Source
  • US Federal Noxious Weed List (draft fact sheet 2011)

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Euphorbia terracina L.

Preferred Common Name

  • false caper

International Common Names

  • English: Geraldton carnation spurge; Geraldton carnation weed
  • Portuguese: leitera

Summary of Invasiveness

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Euphorbia terracina can invade cool, wet areas in addition to hot, dry areas. It is an aggressive weed, forming dense monocultures through competition and allelopathy, inhibiting the growth of native plants including economically important crops. Additionally, the weed produces a toxic sap. False caper thrives in disturbed grasslands, coastal bluffs, dunes, salt marshes, riparian areas and oak woodlands. Livestock avoid the plant and, due to its toxic nature, do not consume it.

E. terracina is listed as a noxious weed in Australia (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992), was added to the US Federal Noxious Weed List and seed list in 2010, and is regulated in California.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Euphorbiales
  •                         Family: Euphorbiaceae
  •                             Genus: Euphorbia
  •                                 Species: Euphorbia terracina


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False caper is a short-lived perennial herb, resembling leafy spurge (Euphorbia escula), a related problem weed in the USA. False caper is large and shrub-like and can form dense thickets with rapid growth and prolific seeding. This gives it the potential to invade areas of healthy rangeland. The plant is upright and grows up to 1 meter (3 feet) tall, with succulent erect branches emerging from a basal woody stem. The plant consists of several green to reddish, slender, leafy stems which branch at the top to produce 4 or 5 flower stems. Flowers are highly modified, yellow/green cup like structures, quite distinct from the bright green leaves. The plant is supported by a robust vertical taproot, however, false caper varies from leafy spurge in that it does not appear to spread vegetatively; but by seed only.

Plant Type

Top of page Herbaceous


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E. terracina is native to Northern Africa, temperate Asia, and some areas of Europe. It has become a serious pest in western Australia. The plant invaded disturbed coastal areas in southern California, USA, in the mid-1980’s and spread rapidly after a series of fires that dispersed the hardy seeds. In 2005-2006, a population explosion was observed, most likely due to a huge number of seeds produced and their unintentional movement via construction equipment. Many methods of control have been utilized in Australia and in California, from hand pulling to the use of numerous herbicides. False caper is of limited distribution in California where it is regulated.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


AlgeriaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
EgyptPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
MoroccoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
TunisiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)


IsraelPresentNativeCABI (Undated a)
JordanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
LebanonPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
SyriaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
TurkeyPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)


AlbaniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
CyprusPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
Federal Republic of YugoslaviaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
FrancePresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
GreecePresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
ItalyPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
PortugalPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)
SpainPresentNativeUSDA-ARS (2011)

North America

United StatesPresentCABI (Undated)Present based on regional distribution.
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedInvasiveUSDA-NRCS (2011); Riordan et al. (2008)
-PennsylvaniaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS (2011)


AustraliaPresentCABI (Undated)Present based on regional distribution.
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroducedInvasiveWestern Australian Herbarium (2011)

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedManaged grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details
Disturbed areas Present, no further details
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details
Riverbanks Present, no further details
Coastal areas Present, no further details
Salt marshes Present, no further details

Biology and Ecology

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In summer most leaves are lost and most stems die back to the base, with new stems produced after autumn rains. Plants are killed by fire and replaced from the soil seedbank. Explosive fruit burst distributes seed several meters; water and animals also transport seed.

Morphological traits and invasive potential in California, USA, are reviewed by Riordan et al. (2008).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Hitchhiker Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Livestock Yes
Machinery and equipment Yes
Plants or parts of plants Yes
Water Yes

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
True seeds (inc. grain) seeds Yes

Impact Summary

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Biodiversity (generally) Negative
Economic/livelihood Negative

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Has high reproductive potential
Impact outcomes
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts human health
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced native biodiversity
Impact mechanisms
  • Allelopathic
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Poisoning

Uses List

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  • Poisonous to mammals

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

E. terracina, due to its medium likelihood of introduction, high consequences of introduction, and medium/high pest risk potential in the U.S., was added to the Federal Noxious Weed List and seed list in 2010. The state regulatory status in California was updated in 2010 to class B. “… if present in California, it is of limited distribution. B-rated pests are eligible to enter the state if the receiving county has agreed to accept them. If found in the state, they are subject to state endorsed holding action and eradication only to provide for containment, as when found in a nursery. At the discretion of the individual county agricultural commissioner they are subject to eradication, containment, suppression, control, or other holding action.”


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Brigham, Christy. “Euphorbia terracina: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.” Powerpoint presentation, 15 April 2004. National Park Services, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Accessed 15 June 2009.

Lehtonen, Polly. Weed Risk Assessment for Euphorbia terracina L. (False caper). Ver. 6 February 22, 2009. Revised by: Shirley Wager-Pagé. Addendum to a report, Analysis and Assessment of the Invasive risk of Euphorbia terracina, submitted by Sarah Reichard and Lizbeth Seebacher, University of Washington, College of Forest Resources, Center for Urban Horticulture.

Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Principal Source

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US Federal Noxious Weed List (draft fact sheet 2011)

Distribution Maps

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