Laypeople often confuse them with cacti. Because of the similar living conditions, numerous similarities can indeed be established between these and the spurge family. However, the spurge plants are clearly distinguished by the characteristic, eponymous white sap that escapes at cuts and injuries. For those who deal with plants, the question almost inevitably arises as to whether this secretion is poisonous.

The name is program

Whether spurge plants are poisonous or not can already be determined from the German name of Euphorbia . The eponymous wolf has always been associated with danger, making it an ideal description of this family of species. In fact, all Euphorbia species have more or less severe adverse effects as soon as you come into contact with the critical components. A closer look at the cause of the danger reveals what these are:

The ingredients

Depending on the type and age of the individual spurge species, the intensity and composition of the harmful ingredients can vary. But always involved:

  • Diterpenester
  • Triterpenester
  • Other toxins in different compositions

From a chemical point of view, an ester is always a combination of an acid and an alcohol. This also explains the danger of the variants encountered here. While the acid reacts aggressively and can easily irritate or even burn the mucous membranes in the mouth, nose and eyes in particular, the volatile alcohol ensures that the substances are quickly released into the air and thus transported quickly between the source and the “recipient”.

Which parts of the plant are poisonous?

The problem of the spurge family is further exacerbated by the fact that the mixture of poisons is generally contained in the plant sap. This means that all parts of the plant through which plant sap flows can be described as clearly poisonous:

  • root
  • stem
  • leaves
  • blossoms

Which plant is poisonous?

Not every spurge has the same poison content. Some specimens are even considered to be particularly aggressive and should therefore only be planted and cared for with great care:

  • Cypress Spurge
  • Rolling Spurge
  • donkey spurge

Other species cause the same symptoms, but only far less severely or only with significantly more intensive contact with the poison:

  • Dog’s mercury (atypical without clearly recognizable milky juice!)
  • Cassava
  • castor bean

Humans and animals – who is affected and how?

The sole finding that spurge plants are poisonous naturally only allows very few conclusions to be drawn about the actual danger. Because in addition to the actual toxin, the effects on the people living in the household and also pets are of considerable interest. Therefore, the question now arises whether humans and animals suffer equally from Euphorbia.

Symptoms of poisoning in humans

  • In case of skin contact: Reddening up to the formation of blisters
  • In case of contact with mucous membranes: Irritation up to and including degradation of the mucous membranes
  • in the eye: redness and irritation up to blindness
  • After swallowing: vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhoea
  • at extremely high doses internally: circulatory damage and paralysis
Note: It is certainly easy to understand that when handling these plants, certain amounts of milk get on the skin or vapors get into the mouth, nose or eyes. However, the internal effectiveness of large amounts of the toxins is likely to occur accidentally at most in small children if the plant components are eaten or at least put in the mouth. Therefore, the most common symptoms are likely to be seen externally.

Symptoms of poisoning in animals

Ultimately, mammals suffer from the toxins of the milkweed in a manner and extent comparable to that of humans. Logically, however, the smaller the animal, the less poison is required to evoke the organism’s reactions. Whether it’s a dog, cat, hamster, rat or other pet – from irritation of the mucous membranes to diarrhea and circulatory failure, all the consequences already mentioned can also be found here. While in humans life-threatening doses are usually only to be feared in small children, pets can endanger their lives much more quickly because of their much smaller size. On the other hand, the deterrent effect of the pungent taste of the plant sap comes into play much more quickly. Normally, you can assume that your pet will hardly eat a spurge voluntarily,

Handle spurge plants safely

In summary, it can be said that spurge plants can be poisonous to a considerable extent, but that they do not pose an enormous danger to life as long as no intentional consumption takes place. Particularly critical moments are likely to exist when the plants are either unintentionally damaged or intentionally cut during pruning. Then humans and animals can be affected by the outgassing toxins. What is usually only unpleasant for a single plant can become quite relevant for a large plant population. We therefore recommend a few simple rules of conduct to protect people and animals:

  • Place plants out of the reach of animals until the interfaces have dried up
  • ensure good ventilation to remove the outgassing toxins
  • Use gloves and goggles
  • Thoroughly clean equipment, documents, etc. that have been wetted with plant sap
  • Never cut back near food etc. (e.g. kitchen worktop)

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