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What is a Gopher Plant?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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The term gopher plant was given to several species of the Euphorbia genus, all of which are poisonous to humans and most livestock. Handling a gopher plant can also irritate the skin of those allergic to latex, a fluid they produce. These slow-growing plants are a species of spurge, a common name for a genus of plants used as purgatives. The blue-green stalks of gopher plants typically grow up to 5 feet (1.5 m) and bear short, slim leaves of the same color. These species of biennial, occasionally annual, plants grow flowers with short or no petals.

Most commonly, Euphorbia rigida, Euphorbia biglandulosa, and Euphorbia lathyris are called gopher plants. The rigida species has rounded clusters of flowers with petals that bloom yellow but eventually turn tan or green in color. Biglandulosa blooms yellow to pink flowers, while lathyris flowers have no petals at all. A gopher plant usually blooms in late winter to early spring.

The natural habitats of gopher plants include southern Europe, east and southwest Asia, and northwest Africa. They are naturalized in both the most eastern and western regions of the United States. Within some jurisdictions, gopher plants are considered to be invasive weeds. In other regions, the plants were evaluated as a potential weed, but eventually remained unlisted.

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A gopher plant has a plethora of uses for many people. In folk medicine, gopher plants are used as a purgative, which is where the genus received the common name spurge. It is also used as an antiseptic and a remedy for serious illnesses like cancer. A more common use for a gopher plant is to keep moles away from a garden, and it is sometimes called the mole plant for this reason. Whether or not these remedies work is a debated question.

The sap of any gopher plant is poisonous and should not be digested by humans or animals, with goats being the exception. For those with latex allergies, gopher plant sap is likely to irritate the skin in the same way latex gloves or clothing might. This is because the milky white substance commonly called sap is actually natural latex. These plants should be kept out of reach of small children and house pets due to health hazards. There is no immediate cure for the mild to severe rashes caused by gopher plant latex, which can last for weeks. Only doctors can treat the symptoms.

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