nodding spurge

(Euphorbia nutans)

Conservation Status
nodding spurge
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FACU - Facultative upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland


Nodding spurge is a low, spreading, 3 to 12 tall, annual forb that rises from a taproot. All parts of the plant emit a milky sap when broken.

The stems are thick, round, up to 32 long, and frequently branched at the base. They are ascending or erect, never prostrate. They are usually ascending, sometimes just at the branch tips. They are tan or pinkish-tan, becoming reddish in strong sun. They are sparsely to moderately covered with curved hairs toward the stem tips and around the nodes. Older parts of the stem are hairless or nearly hairless. Sometimes the hairs occur in two lines on opposite sides of the stem. The plant does not root at the nodes.

Leaves are opposite, oblong or oblong egg-shaped, and stalkless or on very short leaf stalks. The leaf blades are 5 16 to 1½ long about a third as wide. They are bluntly-pointed at the tip, rounded and asymmetrical at the base. The base of the blade on one side is expanded into a small, rounded, ear-like projection (auricle). The upper and lower surfaces are usually sparsely to moderately hairy near the base, sometimes hairless. The upper surface is deep green, often with a reddish spot near the middle. The lower surface is pale green but is not covered with a whitish, waxy bloom (glaucous). The margins are finely toothed.

What appear to be flowers are actually false flowers (cyathia) common to the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family. The inflorescence is usually a small, leafy cluster of cyathia, sometimes a single cyathium, rising from a leaf axil.

The cyathium is less than wide. It is on a stalk up to long. There are no petals or sepals. A single floral bract is formed into a hairless, 1 32 long cup (involucre). There are 4 white or pinkish, spreading, petal-like lobes at the tip. There are 5 to 28 male flowers and a single female flower in the cyathium. The male flower has 1 stamen. The female flower has a 3-valved, hairy, seed capsule hanging alongside the involucre.

The fruit is a 3-lobed, hairy capsule with 3 seeds.




3 to 12


Flower Color


White or pinkish


Similar Species


Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) stems are prostrate. The plant is usually less than 1 tall.

Prostrate knotweed (Polygonum aviculare) does not emit milky sap from broken stems and leaves. It has a sheath that surrounds the stem above each leaf axil.


Dry to moist. Pastures, fields, open woods, lawns, gardens, and disturbed sites. Full sun.




June to October


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Rosanae  


Malpighiales (nances, willows, and allies)  


Euphorbiaceae (spurge)  
  Subfamily Euphorbioideae  
  Tribe Euphorbieae  
  Subtribe Euphorbiinae  


Euphorbia (spurges)  
  Subgenus Chamaesyce  
  Section Anisophyllum (sandmats)  

Nodding spurge was formerly classified as Chamaesyce nutans. Species were originally assigned to the genus Chamaesyce based on the structure of the reproductive organs. Genus wide molecular studies in 2002, 2006, 2007, and 2010 have all unequivocally placed them in the genus Euphorbia, where they were subsequently transferred.


Subordinate Taxa




Chamaesyce maculata

Chamaesyce nutans

Chamaesyce preslii

Euphorbia maculata

Euphorbia maculata

Euphorbia preslii


Common Names



nodding spurge

spotted sandmat

spotted spurge













A small, ear-like projection at the base of a leaf or at the junction of a grass blade and stem.



The upper angle where the leaf stalk meets the stem.



Modified leaf at the base of a flower stalk, flower cluster, or inflorescence.



The false flower of the spurge (Euphorbiaceae) family, consisting of a cup-like involucre surrounding a cluster of small flowers.



Pale green or bluish gray due to a whitish, powdery or waxy film, as on a plum or a grape.



A whorl of bracts beneath or surrounding a flower or flower cluster.



The small swelling of the stem from which one or more leaves, branches, or buds originate.



An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.

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