Skip to Content
Return to Home Page
Statewide IPM Program, University of California

Petty spurge  (Euphorbia (=Chamaesyce) peplus)

Click on images to enlarge 

Life stages of Petty spurge infestation leaves and fruit mature plant seeds and fruit flowering stem

Petty spurge, a winter or summer annual broadleaf plant, is a weed of urban places such as landscaped areas and gardens preferring moist, shady locations and often occuring among shrubs and flowerbeds. It also inhabits agricultural land and is found throughout California, except for deserts and the Great Basin, to an elevation of 1000 feet (300 m). Consumption of this plant can cause digestive tract problems, and although rare, it has been reported to be fatally toxic to humans and livestock. The milky sap may cause dermatitis.


Landscaped areas, yards, crop fields and disturbed, unmanaged sites.


Cotyledons (seed leaves) are oval, about 1/6 to 1/3 of an inch (4–7 mm) long, hairless, and sit atop a short stalk. The first leaf pair are opposite or alternate to one another on the stem.

Mature plant

Petty spurge is a hairless, erect, light green plant, with single or branched slender stems that can grow to almost 20 inches (0.5 m) tall. Lower leaves are egg shaped, with a rounded to a slighted indented tip, 2/5 to 1-2/5 inches (1–3.5 cm) long, on a short stalk, and are either alternate to one another or almost opposite to one another with one leaf in each pair attaching a little below the other. Reduced leaves (bracts) are opposite to one another along the flowering portion of the stem. A whitish sap exudes when stems are broken.


Flowers bloom from February through August. Tiny, greenish-yellow, non-showy flowers are grouped in small flowerlike cups and surrounded by crescent-shaped glands with tiny horns at each end.


Fruits consist of tiny three-lobed capsules, 1/17 to 1/10 of an inch (1.5–3 mm) in diameter, hairless, and nearly round. Each capsule contains three seeds.


Seeds are oblong with four angles, white to gray, and are about 1/25 to 1/17 of an inch (1–1.5 mm) long. With magnification, minute pitting can be seen on the surface.


Reproduces by seed.

Related or similar plants

  • Spotted spurge, Euphorbia (=Chamaesyce) maculata
  • Creeping spurge, Euphorbia (=Chamaesyce) serpens

More information