1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Euphorbia

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EUPHORBIA, in botany, a large genus of plants from which the order Euphorbiaceae takes its name. It includes more than 600 species and is of almost world-wide distribution. It is represented in Britain by the spurges—small, generally smooth, herbaceous plants with simple leaves and inconspicuous flowers arranged in small cup-like heads (cyathia). The cyathium is a characteristic feature of the genus, and consists of a number of male flowers, each reduced to a single stamen, surrounding a central female flower which consists only of a stalked pistil; the group of flowers is enveloped in a cup formed by the union of four or five bracts, the upper part of which bears thick, conspicuous, gland-like structures, which in exotic species are often brilliantly coloured, giving the cyathium the appearance of a single flower. Another characteristic is the presence of a milky juice, or latex, in the tissues of the plant. In one section of the genus the plants resemble cacti, having a thick succulent stem and branches with the leaves either very small or completely reduced to a small wart-like excrescence, with which is generally associated a tuft of spines (a reduced shoot). These occur in the warmer parts of the world as a type of dry country or desert vegetation. The only species of note are E. fulgens and E. jacquiniaeflora, for the warm greenhouse; E. Cyparissias (the Cypress spurge), E. Wulfeni, E. Lathyris and E. Myrsinites, for the open air.