Sketches for the Poison Flower Fairies: the very kinky latex-clad fairy of the Caper Spurge

The last Poison Flower Fairy in my current collection (I have more possibilities, but I’m temporarily forced to break off from this macabre lot to get on with some other stuff)… the last one is a member of the Euphorbia genus. I had to include a Euphorbia, not because they are the most famous of poison plants, though they are undoubtedly poisonous, but because it was a Euphorbia-related visit to casualty which first gave me the idea for these paintings.

Euphorbia lathyris, or Caper Spurge - this is the stem and leaves before it flowers
Euphorbia Lathyris, or Caper Spurge – the innocent but interesting leafy thing I found in my veg bed

So, there are these plants: Euphorbias, also known as Spurges, a vast genus of plants, wildly varying, including some very common weeds and some rather nice garden plants, in an understated kind of way. They usually don’t go in for flashy, these plants, not generally having much in the way of what one might call flowers, instead they tend to have stately bracts: modified leaves that are at the back of the flower and from out of the middle of which the insignificant flower and subsequent seed pod grow, plus, certainly in this case, another two more stems which grow each into two more bracts etc, until it eventually runs out of steam…

Euphorbia Lathyris - the monster it grew into...
Euphorbia Lathyris – the monster it grew into…!

Anyway, all the Euphorbias have this in common: they all have harmful sap. Toxic, yes, but also very irritating to skin and appalling stuff to get into your eyes.  I found this out this largely because I rescued a small and curious plant from my vegetable patch – transferring it to a spare bit of flower bed before the veg bed was dug over last spring, and re-planting it to see what it might grow into. This is the one in the photos. Early on, somebody said it was a kind of spurge, so I googled Spurge till I fond my plant. This turned up a name for it: ‘Euphorbia Lathyris’, or the ‘Caper Spurge’.

Arrangement of bracts and seedpods - this thing just keeps getting bigger...
Arrangement of bracts and seed pods – this thing just keeps getting bigger…

What Google also turned up was a lot of stories of people who’d pulled this one out as a weed and got the sap on them – the plant grows quite big and is particularly sappy – and has hospitalized numerous people over the years, even causing temporary blindness in severe cases of it getting in people’s eyes. All in all a lot of people considered it to be a noxious weed, because it readily seeds itself everywhere. The ‘capers’ – which are of course not real capers and you can’t eat them – these are the seed pods and when they’re ripe on a hot summer’s day you can hear them exploding all over the place.

So anyway, armed with this knowledge I admired my rescued weed all the more and, so cosseted in the flowerbed, it grew into a fine big fantastic thing, spreading seeds far and wide till it got a bit manky at the end of the year and I cut it down (with apologies). Once it flowers and makes seed pods that’s the end of the line for Euphorbia Lathyris anyway, so it had a more or less timely death. And no, I never did get the sap on me, though I did put on long sleeves, gloves and goggles when I removed it: they weren’t joking – it really is quite sappy and messy!

The 'capers' of the Caper Spurge - no, you cannot eat them
The ‘capers’ of the Caper Spurge – no, you cannot eat them!

So here we are, the fairy of the Caper Spurge, Euphorbia Lathyris, dressed from head to toe in a kinky little latex outfit! ‘Latex’ is also the sap that comes out of the plant, by the way, though not the sort from which one usually makes kinky wearables, but it’s a nice coincidence. And just to be on the safe side this fairy wears goggles, too. All in all, one of the more bizarrely dressed fetish fairies of the plant world 🙂

Euphorbia Lathyris, fairy of the Caper Spurge - drawing by Nancy Farmer
Euphorbia Lathyris, fairy of the Caper Spurge – drawing by Nancy Farmer

And that trip to casualty…? Well, I also have a pot-plant Euphorbia which is a fleshy thing that looks very like a cactus. I have now learnt that however much it may look like a cactus, it is not a good idea to put it next to a real cactus, at least, not if the cactus in question has needle-sharp spines. A total fluke, a mere single poke of the spiny cactus into the side of the fleshy plant with the toxic sap, the tiniest microscopic invisible squirt of sap and I ended up in casualty with very painful and streaming eye! It should be said that this was pretty minor and four hours after it had happened the eye had more or less got better on its own and I went home, having only seen the triage nurse by that time, but it was not the way I had intended to spend my morning. The following day I happened upon a tiny book entitled ‘Poison Plants’ and, like a squirt of toxic sap out of the blue, I was struck by the idea for the Poison Flower Fairies!

The potted Euphorbia, by the way, now resides in the spare room, well away from all sharp plants, but that was the start of all this, so, it had its uses…

5 Comments

  1. Fantastic tale! I will need to buy a print of this if you are doing some I think (unless I win the lottery in the meantime of course!). I have sun spurge here. Discovered it’s anti-eye inclinations after identifying the plant on Google or maybe the old-fashioned way in a book. It isn’t as tall as your caper spurge but it does get about a bit.

    1. Oh I like that little one, too (or is it wood spurge, or maybe they’re the same?) it made excellent ground-cover last summer where it grew itself in a space with no proper plants, blocked the light to other potential weeds and was so easy to pull out at the end of the year. I am actively encouraging it now to fill the gaps I don’t get round to weeding!

      1. They look really similar from what I can see. The dandelions here and the couch grass crowd out everything else. :-/ We also have bindweed, so I can’t let nature have its way here or I’ll be looking at a brambly patch by the end of this summer! I wonder what bramble fairies look like? 🙂 Or dandelions, for that matter.

    2. Ha! funny you should mention brambles, I am off out to ‘prune’ ours this morning: I decided they were supposed to be cultivated blackberries last year, which may in fact be true, but they are out of control and I should have been firmer with them! Bramble fairies could be one for the ‘Flower Fairies go to Seed’ series…

  2. […] a little more abotu this most entertaining weed, see my previous post on Euphorbia Lathyris Caper Spurge Fairy – first stages of […]

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