Leaf of the day: Euphorbia Cyathia

When is a flower not a flower? .. when its a cyathium…

Whilst looking at the plants here at West Dean I became fascinated by the different types of eurphorbia which were growing along the paths bordering the stream walk. The “tops” are different according to the different varieties and the structures of the flowering parts are all different and very dainty.

The “flowers” are made up of a cyathia which is an inflorescence consisting of a cuplike cluster of modified leaves which encloses a female flower and several male flowers. Male flowers, the stamens, are included in the cyathia, while the female flower, the little ball with the tassels, sticks out of each cyathium on a long stalk.
The cyathia are all different shapes and the name comes from the Latin meaning a ladle..so it is maybe more helpful to think of it as spoon, rather then cup, shaped.
This diagram may explain better…

and here are a few sketches of the “flowers”. I will, I am sure, be returning to these fascinating little plants. The euphorbia family is extensive and I have already included one of it members, the Crown of Thorns here.


Euphorbia tops