Gopher Spurge, Caper Spurge, Mole Plant

Euphorbia lathyris

That the Gopher Spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) drives voles and moles out of the garden is a popular belief that I cannot confirm. In my garden, these species coexist peacefully. Almost, because the mole I suspect to eat young mice. At least the number of rodents has increased since he left the garden.

Caper Spurge fruits
The fruits of Euphorbia lathyris look similar to capers but are poisonous and not edible.


Euphorbia lathyris grows as an annual or biennial and can reach over a meter in height. It retains its leaves even in winter. At first glance, it is not obvious that it is related to the poinsettia.
The flowering period can last from June to August, and the Gopher Spurge shows its fruits until November. They can reach diameters of almost two centimeters.

Once the fruits are dry, they burst and fling the seeds around.

All parts of the plant are poisonous. Contact with the milky sap can cause allergic reactions.

Caper Spurge fruits and flower


Euphorbia lathyris came to Central Europe and North America as an ornamental plant. Its original distribution area is said to be in Asia (China) and the Mediterranean region (France, Greece, Italy) (source). As an introduced species, it is also found in other regions.

Mole Plants in a raised bed
Mole Plants in a raised bed

Gopher Spurge grows in sunny to semi-shady locations and thrives best in evenly moist as well as nutrient-rich soil. However, it can also grow between flagstones or in gravel paths, but remains much smaller in such locations.

Mole Plants in a gravel path
Mole Plants in a gravel path

In Central Europe it is sometimes found near settlements or allotments. It also grows on embankments and dams.

Euphorbia lathyris in the garden
Euphorbia lathyris and Silene coronaria in my garden.

Euphorbia lathyris in the garden

Euphorbia lathyris doesn’t repel voles, but it brings color to the winter garden with its striped leaves. Moreover, its culture is not difficult.

It self-seeds and only needs regular watering. It does not require fertilizer.

Who wants to dispose of it in the compost or raised bed must expect that its seeds will also germinate there.

Gopher Spurge

Categories: Garden plants | Wildflowers |

More species from the Euphorbiaceae / spurge family