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Desert Diary


It's hard to miss trees and bushes, or even small plants laden with brightly colored blooms. On the other hand, there are loads of kinds of little, inconspicuous plants that we almost never notice except to pull them as weeds from a garden plot. A number of these nondescript tiny forbs belong to the euphorbia family, although it's not that all members of the family fit this description—some, such as poinsettias, are very noticeable.

If you do find a small, spreading weed and suspect that it might be a euphorb, go ahead and break off a stem to see if a milky sap oozes out. While some other plant families, such as the milkweeds, also have this characteristic, most are upright plants or vines. In many cases, the euphorbs go unappreciated by us only because we're giants. If we were the size of a mouse or rat, or the euphorbs were the size of gourd vines or roses, we might be very taken with delicately tinged flowers. There's no rule that says that a weed can't be beautiful.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

overview, Euphorbia arizonica

Euphorbia arizonica, Lajitas, TX. Photograph by Ad Konings.