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Fire-on-the-Mountain - August 12, 2012

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This summer, three palm trees in my front yard developed root rot (Ganoderma) and had to be removed.  You can imagine what this did to the grass and vegetation growing beneath the palms.  Any time you disturb the soil you can almost be assured the appearance of one of my favorite “weeds” Euphorbia heterophylla or Fire-on-the-Mountain.  I suspect it gets its common name from two sources.  Anytime there is a forest fire on a mountain, one of the first invasive species is Euphobia heterophylla (a synonym is E. cyathophora).  Another reason is the plant produces deep green bracts painted at their base with a brilliant orange or red giving the appearance of a flame.  By the way, there’s also a Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginatawith white at the bases of the bracts.

Fire-on-the-Mountain is a native of Mexico (like the Poinsettia which has more showy bracts) and has escaped into the wild throughout the west and south.  What’s especially interesting about the plant is the inconspicuous flowers.  If you think of the Poinsettia of Christmas, what most people consider red petals are simply those highly colored bracts.  The flowers are very tiny and are aggregates of separate male and female flowers clustered to form a structure called the cyanthium.  For a great description and illustrations visit the website about the genus Euphorbia at  There is usually one female flower surrounded by several glands and several male flowers with a single stamen.

Like Poinsettias, Fire-on-the-Mountain also produces a milky latex considered toxic. The common name for the family Euphorbiaceae is the spurge family and this milky latex is common to the family.  Many euphorbs are also cactus-like in appearance and are often confused for those plants.  You can always tell by breaking off a piece of the plant and if you see the milky latex, you know it is not a cactus but a euphorb. 

Since these are flowers, they produce fruits.  It’s a dry fruit called a capsule, usually with three large seeds inside.  The seeds are explosively discharged and shoot a fair distance from the parent plant, thus insuring no competition with the parent upon germination.  It also explains why the plant is so invasive in disturbed areas. 

The background music is the old time tune "Fire on the Mountain" by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys from the Bill Monroe: Anthology.

© Fred Searcy 2017