Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Originally from the Mediterranean region, False Caper (Euphorbia terracina) is an upright herbaceous perennial that grows up to 1 m high and exudes a caustic milky sap when cut or injured.
  • It grows in the warm-temperate regions of Australia, principally in areas of winter-dominated rainfall.
  • It can flower within the first year of growth and the seed remains viable in the soil for up to five years.
  • It invades native bushland where it can out compete native species for habitat resources.
  • It impacts  pastures and can injury animals that eat it, only eaten when other feed unavailable.
  • Difficult to control once established, can be controlled by physical means and herbicide.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

False Caper (Euphorbia terracina) is an upright herbaceous perennial that grows 20–80 cm sometimes up to 1 m high, with several many leaf stems arising from a robust taproot. Mature established plants many have over 100 stems per plant. The plant exudes a caustic milky sap when cut or injured. The stems are slender, hairless and green to reddish in colour, all leaves without a leaf-stalk. Stems are unbranched or branched from the base, further branching towards the top of the plant  where 4 or 5 fertile branches radiate from a point immediately above a cluster of ovate leaves, which are then further branched at the top of the plant. Below this point the bright green leaves are alternately arranged along the stem, linear to lance-shaped in outline, 1 to 4 cm long 0.2 to 0.8 wide, and have finely serrated margins or no serrations at all. Leaves on fertile branches are a different shape and size to stem leaves, with the upper leaves ovate (shaped like a section through the long axis of an egg and attached by the wider end) to triangular in shape, to 55 mm long, 30 mm wide.

The tiny, highly modified flowers are borne in small cup-shaped organs called cyathia (singular cyathium). Each cyathium contains several mostly inconspicuous male flowers and one central female flower with a conspicuous protruding ovary. On the rim of each cyathium are four crescent-shaped glands with long slender horns. The cyathia are yellowish-green in colour and arranged in small clusters at the ends of the branches with distinctive paired yellow-green ovate floral leaves.

The smooth, strongly three lobed capsules are 3 to 5 mm long, 4 to 5 mm wide and contain three seeds. The smooth seeds are grey or grey finely mottled brown or black, egg-shaped and about 2–2.5 mm long (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Randall & Brooks 2000).

For further information and assistance with identification of False Caper contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

Yellow, Green

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

False Caper grows in the warm-temperate regions of Australia, principally in areas of winter-dominated rainfall. It grows on well-drained sandy soils and shallow soils that have high calcium carbonate content. In South Australia it is also reported on red earths. The species is commonly associated with coastal sand dunes and sand plains and swamps but also reported from inland areas. In Western Australia it is predominantly in coastal heath and Tuart woodland communities. It is often associated with disturbed sites such as roadsides, cleared paddocks and degraded bushland (Weber 1986; Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Paczkowska & Chapman 2000; Randall & Brooks 2000).

Are there similar species?

False Caper is similar to three other naturalised spurges (Euphorbia species) in Australia; these are Tree Spurge (E. dendroides), Cypress Spurge (E. cyparissias) and Sea Spurge (E. paralias). False Caper is distinguished from all three by having finely toothed leaf margins (Halford pers. comm. 2007).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

False Caper invades grassland and sandy areas including both agricultural production and native ecosystems. It impacts human and animal health, and reduces native biodiversity and feed to stock. A weed of pasture, vegetables, roadsides, gardens, coastal heath, open grassy woodlands and disturbed areas. it is mostly unpalatable to stock and rarely causes problems unless stock have no other feed, but can become dominate and exclude most other species and losses of stock in have been attributed to eating false caper.

Native ecosystems: The rapid growth and prolific seeding gives it the potential to significantly impact of the biodiversity in areas of native vegetation. It is a serious competitor of pasture species and can invade areas of healthy native bushland where it forms dense thickets which out compete native species for habitat resources (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Randall & Brooks 2000).

Agriculture: False Caper exudes a caustic milky sap and is mostly unpalatable to livestock. However, it has been suspected of causing death of livestock due to cyanide poisoning (Weber 1986; James & Harden 1990; Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

Urban areas: Can become dominate in urban areas with calcareous, sandy soil. Its milky sap can also cause skin and eye irritation in humans.  Its milky latex-like sap is heavy in alkaloids and can cause irritation and swelling to the human body, particularly sensitive areas such as the eyes.

How does it spread?

False Caper spreads by seed that is scattered over several metres when released explosively from ripe capsules. 

Longer distance dispersal of seeds can be through water movement along streams and movement of soil containing seeds by animals and machinery (Randall & Brooks 2000; Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

What is its history in Australia?

It is not known exactly how False Caper was introduced to Australia but it was reportedly naturalised in coastal dunes near Adelaide in the early days of settlement of that region. However, the first herbaium record in Australia herbaia is in 1903 from South Australia (AVH 2021).  It has subsequently spread throughout south-eastern South Australia to north-western Victoria. It has since been recorded near Portland, and in north-eastern Victoria, and in western New South Wales. As well it has become well established in south-western Western Australia from near Geraldton, where it was common by 1914, and south to Esperance (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

False caper is notoriously difficult to control once established. Livestock avoid consuming the plant due to the irritant milky sap; as a result it dominates in poorly managed pastures. However, False Caper does not appear to persist in frequently cultivated soils.

Non-chemical control: Manageable infestations of False Caper can be removed by digging. However, care needs to be taken as the plants exude a toxic milky sap when damaged. For plants older than three weeks of age, care should be taken to remove all the roots as False Caper can regrow from root fragments left in the ground. Heavy mulching of areas cleared of False Caper has been found useful in reducing regeneration of False Caper from seedling recruitment from the soil seed bank (Randall & Brooks 2000). In arable lands, cultivation can be an effective method of control, as it does not persist on frequently cultivated land (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992).

Chemical control: False Caper is susceptible to several herbicides and spraying actively growing plants gives good control. It is advisable to control False caper at seedling stage before flowering, this is the most economical and effective method. The use of broadleaf herbicides will allow competitive grasses to grow and compete with false caper seedlings, this will reduce false caper germination the following year., For further details,see: Parsons & Cuthbertson (1992); Randall & Brooks (2000); Western Australian Herbarium (1998–).

Please also see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for further chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au 

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

False Caper is a herbaceous perennial. Seeds mostly germinate in late summer to early winter. However, germination can occur at other times throughout the year following heavy rain. In Australia, flowering has been recorded from mid winter to summer. The seeds are released from the mature capsules soon after flowering. Seed may remain viable in the soil for up to five years. Plants can flower within the first year of growth. Established plants die back to a woody base in summer and produce new growth in autumn (Weber 1986; Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992; Randall & Brooks 2000; Brown 2007).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

False Caper is naturalised across southern Australia. 

In Western Australia it occurs from Geraldton to Esperance.

In South Australia it is common and widely distrusted and extends in the southern part of the State from the Nullarbor WA boarder from Yorke Peninsula, north to Gawler, and along the Murray River to the Victorian boarder. 

In Victoria is is distrusted from north-western Victoria to the north-eastern Victoria and Central Western Slopes to New South Wales.  

In New South Wales it is less common, present in the South Western Plains (AVH 2021; Randall & Brooks 2000).

Where does it originate?

False Caper is a native to the Mediterranean region from Northern Africa, Southern Europe and Western Asia (GRIN 2007).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Euphorbia terracina

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

Geraldton Carnation Weed, Terracina Spurge, Geraldton Carnation Spurge

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