Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Euphorbia trigona
(African milk weed)

Rojas-Sandoval J, 2016. Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed). Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CABI. DOI:10.1079/ISC.21380.20203483360

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Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 21 April 2020
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Euphorbia trigona
  • Preferred Common Name
  • African milk weed
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Among the succulent, cacti-form Euphorbia spp., E. trigona is the most widely grown. It is widely commercialized as an ornamental, hedge plant and potted plant across tropical and subtropical regions. This species has the potenti...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, grown as an ornamental (planted in red lapilli). On the roundabout of the roads LZ-2 and LZ-706 precisely on the border between Tías and Yaiza, Lanzarote, Canary Islands. March 2011.
TitleHabit
CaptionEuphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, grown as an ornamental (planted in red lapilli). On the roundabout of the roads LZ-2 and LZ-706 precisely on the border between Tías and Yaiza, Lanzarote, Canary Islands. March 2011.
Copyright©Frank Vincentz/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, grown as an ornamental (planted in red lapilli). On the roundabout of the roads LZ-2 and LZ-706 precisely on the border between Tías and Yaiza, Lanzarote, Canary Islands. March 2011.
HabitEuphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, grown as an ornamental (planted in red lapilli). On the roundabout of the roads LZ-2 and LZ-706 precisely on the border between Tías and Yaiza, Lanzarote, Canary Islands. March 2011.©Frank Vincentz/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Tenerife. March 2007.
TitleHabit
CaptionEuphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Tenerife. March 2007.
Copyright©Piotrus (Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus)/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Tenerife. March 2007.
HabitEuphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Tenerife. March 2007.©Piotrus (Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus)/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Tenerife. March 2007.
TitleHabit
CaptionEuphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Tenerife. March 2007.
Copyright©Piotrus (Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus)/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Tenerife. March 2007.
HabitEuphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Tenerife. March 2007.©Piotrus (Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus)/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Lankester Botanical Garden, Cartago, Costa Rica. June 2008.
TitleFoliage
CaptionEuphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Lankester Botanical Garden, Cartago, Costa Rica. June 2008.
Copyright©David J. Stang/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0
Euphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Lankester Botanical Garden, Cartago, Costa Rica. June 2008.
FoliageEuphorbia trigona (African milk weed); habit, showing foliage. Lankester Botanical Garden, Cartago, Costa Rica. June 2008.©David J. Stang/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Euphorbia trigona Mill.

Preferred Common Name

  • African milk weed

Other Scientific Names

  • Euphorbia hermentiana LEM.
  • Hermentiana triangularis

International Common Names

  • English: African milk tree; cathedral cactus; high chaparall
  • Spanish: cactus candelabro; candelabra

Local Common Names

  • Cuba: corona de la reina
  • India: triangular Spurge

EPPO code

  • EPHTG (Euphorbia trigona)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Among the succulent, cacti-form Euphorbia spp., E. trigona is the most widely grown. It is widely commercialized as an ornamental, hedge plant and potted plant across tropical and subtropical regions. This species has the potential to escape from cultivation. In Cuba and India, where this species has become naturalized, it grows to form thickets in disturbed sites and abandoned gardens in dry and semiarid sites. It mostly spreads vegetatively by cuttings and stem fragments.

Taxonomic Tree

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

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The Euphorbiaceae is a pantropical family, comprising 218 genera and 6745 species (Stevens, 2016). Members of this family are mostly monoecious herbs, shrubs and trees, sometimes succulent and cactus-like plants with xerophytic adaptations (Esser, 2009; Stevens, 2016). The Euphorbiaceae was considered a morphologically well-defined family for a long time, based mostly on their unisex flowers and typical schizocarpous fruits. However, recent molecular studies have resulted in the recognition of several, mostly small families (i.e., Peraceae, Phyllanthaceae, Picrodendraceae, Putranjivaceae). In the most recent circumscription, Euphorbiaceae is defined as clearly monophyletic (Esser, 2009). The genus Euphorbia is among the largest genera of angiosperms, with about 2420 species with remarkably diverse growth forms – such as annual to perennial herbs, thorny/spiny stem or succulents to cactus-like and trees (Horn et al., 2012; Stevens, 2016). Euphorbia trigona is possibly of hybrid origin (PROTA, 2016). There is also an attractive cultivar (Euphorbia trigona cv. Royal Red) with purplish-red stems and leaves.

Description

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The following description is adapted from India Biodiversity Portal (2016):

Succulent shrubs or trees, latex milky, branchlets 3-angled, spines 3 mm, divergent, cauducous. Leaves to 2.5 mm, ovate, cauducous. Cyathia solitary or in groups, bracts paired to 3.5 x 4 mm, ovate, obtuse, dentate, glands 5 to 2.2 mm, bracteoles approximately 2.5 mm, obovate, apex fringed; stamens numerous, filaments jointed, 2.6 mm; female flowers erect, ovary about 3.7 mm across, 3-celled, style 3, ovule 1. Capsule to 7 mm, 3-lobed, 3.5 mm, obovoid.

Plant Type

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Perennial
Shrub
Succulent
Vegetatively propagated

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: 20 Apr 2020
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes

Africa

AngolaPresentNative
Congo, Democratic Republic of thePresentNative
Congo, Republic of thePresentNative
GabonPresentNative
MalawiPresentNative

Asia

BangladeshPresentIntroduced
ChinaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced
IndiaPresentIntroduced
-KeralaPresentIntroduced
-Tamil NaduPresentIntroduced
ThailandPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced

Europe

SpainPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced
-Canary IslandsPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced

North America

BelizePresentIntroducedCultivated
CubaPresentIntroducedInvasive

South America

ColombiaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedCultivated

History of Introduction and Spread

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Euphorbia trigona has been widely commercialized and introduced into many countries to be used as ornamental, hedge and potted plant (Riina and Berry, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016). However, little is known about the history of introduction of this species. It is commonly planted as a ritual plant and as a hedge and ornamental near villages, especially in tropical Africa. In India, it is described as a “common species” in the deciduous forests of Peninsular India (India Biodiversity Portal, 2016). In Cuba this species was introduced as an ornamental and is now becoming invasive (Oviedo et al., 2012).

Habitat

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Euphorbia trigona mostly grows in human-made habitats. It also grows in tropical dry forests and dry deciduous forests. In tropical Africa, India and Cuba it is common in disturbed sites, waste areas, roadsides and dry and semiarid environments. In India, it grows in moist and dry deciduous forests from foothills to 400m (India Biodiversity Portal, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016).

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

The chromosome number reported for E. trigona is 2n= 22 (Kothari et al., 1981). Chromosome numbers vary widely across the Euphorbia genus, and aneuploidy and polyploidy have produced speciation events (Perry, 1943).

Reproductive biology

Plants of E. trigona in cultivation rarely produce flowers. In the wild, flowers are small and inconspicuous (India Biodiversity Portal, 2016). It mostly spreads vegetatively by cuttings and stem fragments (PROTA, 2016)

Physiology and phenology

In India, E. trigona has been recorded flowering from December to January and fruiting from February-April (India Biodiversity Portal, 2016).

Longevity

Euphorbia trigona is a moderately fast-growing perennial species. When grown in gardens, in just 3-5 years it will dominate the landscape.

Environmental requirements

Euphorbia trigona prefers to grow in full sunlight conditions, but it can tolerate moderate shade. This species appears to grow on almost any soil with pH ranging from pH 6.1-7.8 (LLIFLE, 2016).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 10 30

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light
  • medium

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Euphorbia trigona is prone to mealy bugs and cactus scale (LLIFLE, 2016)

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Euphorbia trigona mostly spreads vegetatively by cuttings and stem fragments (PROTA, 2016). Flowers and fruits are rarely produced. This species is primarily moved/introduced into new habitats by humans (Riina and Berry, 2016; PROTA, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
DisturbanceOften growing in disturbed sites Yes Yes USDA-ARS, 2016
Escape from confinement or garden escapeEscaped from gardens/cultivation Yes PROTA, 2016
Garden waste disposalSpreads by cuttings and stem fragments Yes PROTA, 2016
Hedges and windbreaksGrown as a hedge plant Yes Yes USDA-ARS, 2016
Internet salesWidely available online Yes Yes
Ornamental purposesWidely commercialized as ornamental, hedge plant and potted plant Yes Yes USDA-ARS, 2016

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Debris and waste associated with human activitiesSpreads by cuttings and stem fragments Yes PROTA, 2016
MailAvailable for purchase as an ornamental, hedge plant and potted plant Yes Yes USDA-ARS, 2016

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Environmental Impact

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Euphorbia trigona has the potential to displace native vegetation and may form hedge-like barriers in invaded areas. This species has the potential to outcompete native plants for water and nutrients (PROTA, 2016).

Social Impact

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The latex of E. trigona is poisonous and caustic for humans, livestock, cats, dogs and wild animals (PROTA, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016).

Risk and Impact Factors

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Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Modification of hydrology
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Causes allergic responses
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - smothering
  • Poisoning
  • Rapid growth
  • Rooting
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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Social Benefit

Euphorbia trigona is widely commercialized as an ornamental and potted plant and, due to the presence of spines, it is also used as a fence/hedge plant (USDA-ARS, 2016). In tropical Africa, it is commonly planted as a ritual plant and hedge near villages (PROTA, 2016). In India, the sap from the plant is mixed with the mud from termite mounds and is applied on the blades of new knives and axes to sharpen them. The latex is also used as a fish poison (India Biodiversity, 2016).

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Amenity
  • Boundary, barrier or support

General

  • Botanical garden/zoo
  • Ritual uses

Ornamental

  • garden plant
  • Potted plant
  • Propagation material

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Euphorbia species are commonly confused with cacti. However, these two taxa can be easily distinguished by the presence of sticky, milky-white latex in Euphorbia spp., a trait that is absent in cacti. Additionally, the flowers of Euphorbia spp. are usually tiny and inconspicuous while cactus flowers are larger and showy.

References

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Balick, M. J., Nee, M., Atha, D. E., 2000. Checklist of the vascular plants of Belize, New York, USA: New York Botanical Garden.246 pp.

Esser HJ, 2009. Neotropical Euphorbiaceae. In: Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics, [ed. by Milliken W, Klitgård B, Baracat A]. London, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.http://www.kew.org/science/tropamerica/neotropikey/families/Euphorbiaceae.htm

Esser, HJ, Chayamarit, K, 2001. Notes on Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae) in Thailand. Harvard Papers in Botany, 6(1), 261-266.

Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2016. Flora of China. In: Flora of China St. Louis, Missouri and Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria.http://www.efloras.org/flora_page.aspx?flora_id=2

Govaerts, R, 2016. Family Euphorbiaceae - World Checklist of Euphorbiaceae. London, UK: Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/

Horn, J. W., Ee, B. W. van, Morawetz, J. J., Riina, R., Steinmann, V. W., Berry, P. E., Wurdack, K. J., 2012. Phylogenetics and the evolution of major structural characters in the giant genus Euphorbia L. (Euphorbiaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 63(2), 305-326. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2011.12.022

India Biodiversity Portal, 2016. Online Portal of India Biodiversity. In: Online Portal of India Biodiversity . http://indiabiodiversity.org/species/list

Kothari NM, Ninant CA, Kuriachan PI, 1981. In Chromosome number reports LXXII. Taxon, 30, 707.

LLIFLE, 2016. Encyclopedia of Succulents. LLIFLE Encyclopedias of Living Forms.http://www.llifle.com/Encyclopedia/SUCCULENTS/

Murillo AJ, 2004. (Las Euphorbiaceae de Colombia). Biota Colombiana, 5(2), 183-200.

Ortiz, DG, 2016. (Plantas ornamentales de la comarca del Camp de Morvedre (Comunidad Valenciana, España)). Revista científica internacional dedicada al estudio de la flora ornamental, 95, 1-10.

Oviedo Prieto, R., Herrera Oliver, P., Caluff, M. G., et al., 2012. National list of invasive and potentially invasive plants in the Republic of Cuba - 2011. (Lista nacional de especies de plantas invasoras y potencialmente invasoras en la República de Cuba - 2011). Bissea: Boletín sobre Conservación de Plantas del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba, 6(Special Issue No. 1), 22-96.

Perry, B. A., 1943. Chromosome number and phylogenetic relationships in the Euphorbiaceae. American Journal of Botany, 30, 527-43. doi: 10.2307/2437291

PROTA, 2016. PROTA4U web database. In: PROTA4U web database Wageningen and Nairobi, Netherlands\Kenya: Plant Resources of Tropical Africa.https://www.prota4u.org/database/

Riina R, Berry PE, 2016. Euphorbia Planetary Biodiversity Inventory Project. USA: National Science Foundation.www.euphorbiaceae.org

Stevens, P. F., 2016. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 13. In: Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 13 . St. Louis, Missouri, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden.http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/APweb/

USDA-ARS, 2016. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. In: Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory.https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysimple.aspx

Distribution References

Balick M J, Nee M, Atha D E, 2000. Checklist of the vascular plants of Belize. New York, USA: New York Botanical Garden. 246 pp.

Esser HJ, Chayamarit K, 2001. Notes on Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae) in Thailand. Harvard Papers in Botany. 6 (1), 261-266.

Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2016. Flora of China. In: Flora of China. St. Louis, Missouri and Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria. http://www.efloras.org/flora_page.aspx?flora_id=2

Govaerts R, 2016. Family Euphorbiaceae - World Checklist of Euphorbiaceae., London, UK: Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/

India Biodiversity Portal, 2016. Online Portal of India Biodiversity. In: Online Portal of India Biodiversity. http://indiabiodiversity.org/species/list

Murillo A J, 2004. (Las Euphorbiaceae de Colombia). Biota Colombiana. 5 (2), 183-200.

Ortiz DG, 2016. (Plantas ornamentales de la comarca del Camp de Morvedre (Comunidad Valenciana, España)). Revista científica internacional dedicada al estudio de la flora ornamental. 1-10.

Oviedo Prieto R, Herrera Oliver P, Caluff M G, et al, 2012. National list of invasive and potentially invasive plants in the Republic of Cuba - 2011. (Lista nacional de especies de plantas invasoras y potencialmente invasoras en la República de Cuba - 2011). Bissea: Boletín sobre Conservación de Plantas del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba. 6 (Special Issue No. 1), 22-96.

Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Contributors

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18/08/16 Original text by:

Dr. Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany, Smithsonian NMNH

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