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Caper Spurge

Euphorbia lathyris

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Euphorbiaceae (Spurge)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
150 centimetres tall
Fields, gardens, grassland, marshes, meadows, parks, roadsides, rocky places, sand dunes, scrub, seaside, towns, wasteland, woodland.

Green, no petals
2 large yellowish-green pointed leaf-like outer bracts reaching as much as 7cm wide.
Large 3-sided fruit. Caper Spurge is named for its fruit as they are said to resemble capers.
Greyish-green, lanceolate leaves. The uppermost leaves are the broadest. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs.
Sometimes this plant is called a Mole Plant or Gopher Plant because the sap that exudes from the roots gives off a smell which is said to repel moles.
Other Names:
Gopher Plant, Gopher Spurge, Goutweed, Leafy Spurge, Mole Plant, Myrtle Spurge, Paper Spurge, Petroleum Plant.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Euphorbia lathyris, commonly known as caper spurge or mole plant, is a species of plant in the Euphorbia family. It is native to Europe and Asia, but has been introduced to many other parts of the world. It grows to be about 3-5 ft tall and has green leaves and small yellow flowers. The plant contains a toxic milky sap called latex. It's not considered a desirable plant in gardens and often considered as weed. The toxic sap can cause skin irritation, and if ingested, can cause severe stomach discomfort and even death in some cases. It is used in some traditional medicine to treat various ailments, but its use is not recommended due to its toxicity.


Caper spurge, also known as Euphorbia lathyris, is a species of flowering plant in the family Euphorbiaceae. It is a hardy and fast-growing annual or biennial plant that is native to Europe and Western Asia. Caper spurge is also commonly referred to as "mole plant" or "gopher spurge" due to its use in deterring moles, gophers, and other burrowing pests.

Appearance and Characteristics

Caper spurge typically grows to a height of two to three feet, with a spread of about one foot. The plant has a tall, branching stem with narrow, blue-green leaves that grow alternately. The leaves are about two to four inches long, and they are arranged spirally along the stem. The stem and leaves of the plant contain a milky sap that is toxic and can cause skin irritation, so it is important to handle the plant with care.

The flowers of caper spurge are small and inconspicuous, with yellow-green bracts that surround the tiny flowers. The plant blooms in the summer, producing clusters of small flowers that are followed by seed pods that are about an inch long. The seed pods are highly distinctive, with three horn-like protrusions that resemble a small trident.


Caper spurge is an easy plant to grow, and it can be cultivated in a wide range of soils and climates. The plant prefers well-drained soil and full sun, but it can also tolerate partial shade. Caper spurge is an annual or biennial plant, depending on the climate and growing conditions. It self-seeds readily, and the plant can become invasive in some regions.


Caper spurge has a long history of use in traditional medicine, and it has been used to treat a wide range of ailments, including skin conditions, warts, and cancer. The milky sap of the plant contains compounds that have been shown to have anti-tumor properties, and researchers are investigating the potential of caper spurge as a natural cancer treatment.

In addition to its medicinal uses, caper spurge has a range of other applications. The plant is often grown as an ornamental, and it is particularly well-suited to cottage gardens and naturalistic planting schemes. Caper spurge is also used as a natural insecticide, and the plant's roots are known to repel moles and other burrowing pests.


It is important to handle caper spurge with care, as the milky sap of the plant can cause skin irritation and is toxic if ingested. If you are planting caper spurge in your garden, be sure to wear gloves when handling the plant, and keep it away from children and pets.

Caper spurge is a versatile and hardy plant that is well-suited to a range of applications, from traditional medicine to natural pest control. Its distinctive appearance and easy cultivation make it a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers, and its potential as a natural cancer treatment is an area of ongoing research. While caution is advised when handling the plant, its many benefits make it a valuable addition to any garden or green space.

More Information about Caper Spurge

Caper spurge has a number of interesting historical and cultural associations as well. The plant is believed to have been used by ancient cultures as a contraceptive, and it was also thought to have mystical properties. In medieval Europe, caper spurge was known as "goutweed" and was used as a treatment for gout, as well as other conditions such as epilepsy and scurvy.

Today, caper spurge is still used in some traditional medicines around the world. In India, the plant is used to treat skin diseases and as a remedy for snakebite, while in Africa it is used to treat stomach ailments and as a laxative.

Caper spurge has also been studied for its potential as a biofuel. The plant contains high levels of a type of oil that can be extracted and processed into biodiesel, making it a promising crop for sustainable energy production.

One of the unique features of caper spurge is its ability to repel moles and other burrowing pests. The plant produces a chemical called Euphorbia lathyrisin that is toxic to these animals, and planting caper spurge in your garden or lawn can help to keep them away.

Overall, caper spurge is a fascinating and useful plant with a rich history and a wide range of applications. Its distinctive appearance, ease of cultivation, and potential as a natural cancer treatment and biofuel source make it a valuable addition to any garden or landscape.

Another interesting feature of caper spurge is its use in the production of capers. Despite its common name, caper spurge is not actually related to the caper plant, but it is still used to produce capers in some parts of the world. The young seed pods of the plant can be pickled and used as a substitute for true capers, which are the pickled flower buds of the caper plant.

In addition to its medicinal and culinary uses, caper spurge has also been used for centuries in the production of latex. The milky sap of the plant contains a type of latex that has been used to make rubber, and it was used extensively in the rubber industry during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

While caper spurge has many benefits, it is important to note that the plant is considered invasive in some regions. In areas where the plant is not native, it can quickly spread and outcompete native plant species. If you are considering planting caper spurge, it is important to check whether it is invasive in your area and to take steps to prevent it from spreading.

Caper spurge is a fascinating and versatile plant with a long history of use in traditional medicine, culinary arts, and industrial applications. Its distinctive appearance, ease of cultivation, and potential for use in biofuel production and as a natural pest repellent make it a valuable addition to any garden or landscape. However, it is important to handle the plant with care and to be mindful of its invasive potential in some regions.

Caper spurge has also been studied for its potential as a natural insecticide. The plant contains several compounds that have insecticidal properties, making it effective against a wide range of insect pests. Research has shown that the plant's latex can be used to control a variety of insect species, including aphids, thrips, and whiteflies, and it has also been found to be effective against some plant diseases.

In addition, caper spurge has been found to have potential as a natural weed control method. The plant's allelopathic properties can inhibit the growth of other plants in its vicinity, making it an effective way to control weeds without the use of synthetic herbicides.

Caper spurge has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for a variety of ailments, including inflammation, fever, and respiratory infections. The plant has been found to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, and some studies have suggested that it may be effective against certain types of cancer.

While caper spurge has many potential benefits, it is important to handle the plant with care, as it can cause skin irritation and other adverse effects. The plant's sap can also be toxic if ingested, and it is important to keep it away from pets and children.

In conclusion, caper spurge is a unique and versatile plant with many potential uses. Its medicinal properties, insecticidal and weed control abilities, and potential as a natural cancer treatment and biofuel source make it a valuable addition to any garden or landscape. However, it is important to be aware of the plant's potential risks and to handle it with care.

30 Astonishing Caper Spurge Facts

  1. Exotic Appearance: Caper Spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) boasts an exotic appearance with tall, erect stems and unique, umbrella-like inflorescences.

  2. Drought Tolerance: Impress your audience with the fact that Caper Spurge is remarkably drought-tolerant, making it a resilient and low-maintenance addition to gardens.

  3. Toxic Beauty: Highlight the intriguing toxic properties of Caper Spurge, containing latex that deters herbivores and adds an extra layer of fascination to its allure.

  4. Landscape Architecture: Discuss how Caper Spurge can be a stunning architectural element in landscaping, adding vertical interest and a touch of the extraordinary.

  5. Medicinal History: Delve into the historical medicinal uses of Caper Spurge, ranging from wart removal to traditional folk remedies, connecting the plant to ancient practices.

  6. Biennial Life Cycle: Explain the plant's biennial life cycle, providing insights into its growth pattern and unique characteristics during different stages.

  7. Self-Seeding Wonder: Emphasize Caper Spurge's ability to self-seed, contributing to its naturalization in certain regions and creating captivating, spontaneous displays.

  8. Sun-Loving Species: Attract garden enthusiasts by pointing out that Caper Spurge thrives in full sun, making it an ideal choice for sunny and well-drained garden spots.

  9. Purgative Properties: Share the historical use of Caper Spurge as a purgative, highlighting its traditional role in herbal medicine and folk remedies.

  10. Architectural Foliage: Explore the architectural beauty of Caper Spurge's foliage, describing its long, narrow leaves and their contribution to the plant's overall aesthetic appeal.

  11. Garden Versatility: Illustrate how Caper Spurge's versatility extends beyond gardens, with potential uses in xeriscaping, container gardening, and even as a unique indoor plant.

  12. Eco-Friendly Pest Control: Discuss how the plant's latex serves as a natural deterrent for pests, contributing to eco-friendly pest control in the garden.

  13. Cultural Symbolism: Uncover any cultural or symbolic significance associated with Caper Spurge in different traditions or regions, adding depth to its story.

  14. Winter Interest: Highlight Caper Spurge's ability to provide winter interest with its persistent seed heads, creating visual appeal even in colder months.

  15. Historical Gardens: If applicable, share any instances of Caper Spurge being featured in historical gardens, connecting the plant to a rich horticultural heritage.

  16. Growth Rate: Discuss the relatively rapid growth rate of Caper Spurge, making it an intriguing choice for those seeking quick and impressive garden transformations.

  17. Wildlife Habitat: Mention how Caper Spurge can serve as a habitat for beneficial insects, adding an ecological dimension to its appeal.

  18. Modern Landscaping Trends: Relate Caper Spurge to current landscaping trends, showcasing its potential in contemporary garden designs.

  19. Culinary Curiosity: Caution viewers about the plant's toxicity while mentioning historical references to its use in traditional cuisines after proper preparation.

  20. Minimal Maintenance: Attract busy gardeners by emphasizing the minimal maintenance requirements of Caper Spurge, making it an easy yet striking addition to any landscape.

  21. Seed Dispersal Mechanism: Describe the interesting seed dispersal mechanism of Caper Spurge, enhancing the audience's understanding of its natural processes.

  22. Architectural Structure: Explore the plant's architectural structure, focusing on how it adds a sculptural element to outdoor spaces.

  23. Adaptability: Discuss the adaptability of Caper Spurge to various soil types, showcasing its ability to thrive in diverse garden environments.

  24. Botanical Illustrations: Share historical botanical illustrations or artistic representations of Caper Spurge, adding an aesthetic and educational dimension to your content.

  25. Herbal Folklore: Dive into herbal folklore associated with Caper Spurge, weaving a narrative that connects the plant to cultural traditions and beliefs.

  26. Naturalized Regions: Inform viewers about regions where Caper Spurge has naturalized, creating a sense of connection between the plant and different landscapes.

  27. Contemporary Art Integration: Explore how Caper Spurge can be integrated into contemporary art installations or garden art, appealing to an audience interested in the intersection of nature and art.

  28. Majestic Heights: Emphasize the impressive height that Caper Spurge can reach, creating a visual impact in the garden and making it a focal point.

  29. Global Distribution: Provide insights into the global distribution of Caper Spurge, showcasing its adaptability to different climates and geographical locations.

  30. Garden Companions: Suggest suitable companion plants that pair well with Caper Spurge, helping viewers plan complementary garden designs.


Caper Spurge filmed at Silverdale in Lancashire on the 18th June 2023.


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Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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