Euphorbia heterophylla

Scientific Name Euphorbia heterophylla L.
Common Names English: Mexican fireplant, Milkweed; German: Bechertragende Wolfsmilch; French: Euphorbe hétérophylle
Description Erect annual herb to 1.5 m (4.92 ft), rarely to 4 m (13.12 ft) high.


Characteristic Features

Differently-shaped leaves, very tall plants, containing latex in all parts of the plant.


Stems hollow, usually with scattered hairs.


Leaves ovate to rhomboid, 0.5-5 cm (0.19 - 1.96 inch) wide, hairless above, hairless or with a few appressed hairs below, paler toward the base, margins entire or slightly toothed.

Propagation Organs


Flowers male or female in terminal clusters, each flower-head (cyathium) with a solitary terminal female flower surrounded by male flowers enclosed in a cup-shaped involucre with a solitary conspicuous gland; seeds with 3 longitudinal ridges.

Flowering Period



Capsule 3-4 mm (0.118 - 0.157 inch) long, 5-6 mm (0.196 - 0.24 inch) wide, hairless, 3-lobed.


Warty, brown or gray, mottled, ovoid, 2.5-3 mm (0.098 - 0.118 inch) long. Germination all year round.

Viability of Seeds

Viability of seeds depends on climate and soil moisture content, in tropical areas seeds are less dormant and viability is less than 3 years.


Spread by seeds that are released explosively from ripe pods. One plant produces up to 4,500 seeds, birds and contaminated machinery spread the seeds.



Disturbed places.

Additional Crop Information

It is found in cultivated crops, vegetables, pastures and wastelands and is particularly troublesome in soybeans, cowpeas, corn and sugarcane.

Agricultural Importance

E. heterophylla is distributed in most of the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Plants can be found from sea level to nearly 1,400 m (3,300 ft) elevation, but it is only a serious weed in warm climates. Plants grow rapidly and often shade out seedlings of crops and are very competitive. They can complete life-cycle within 80 days. The weed can completely cover a soybean crop within 2 to 3 weeks after emergence. Heavy infestations increase grain moisture. The latex is toxic.


Useful non-chemical contribution to Integrated Weed Management

Preventing seed rain and avoiding new infestations by contaminated machinery are important integrated control methods. The seed share in the soil seed bank can be reduced by growing forage crops and repeated soil tillage.

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