An annual or biennial herb of open deciduous woodland, tracks and hedge banks, growing on calcareous soils and occasionally on alluvial gravels and clays. Populations tend to decline as shade and competition increase, but soil disturbance stimulates the germination of even long-buried seeds. Lowland.
E. serrulata was not recorded in the wild until 1773. Its distribution has shown little change in those areas where it appears to be native, but populations have declined markedly in recent years and many now comprise fewer than twenty individuals. It has become more frequent as a garden escape since the 1962 Atlas, and these populations can be remarkably persistent.
European Southern-temperate element.
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Light (Ellenberg): 5
Moisture (Ellenberg): 6
Reaction (Ellenberg): 8
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 5
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4.1
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.3
Annual Precipitation (mm): 812
Height (cm): 65
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 13
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: 1.2
Plantatt Conservation Status
RDB Species Accounts
Euphorbia serrulata Thuill. (Euphorbiaceae)
Euphorbia stricta L., nom. illegit.
Upright spurge, Llaethlys Mynwy
Status in Britain: VULNERABLE.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
E. serrulata is a plant of open deciduous woodland, tracks and hedge banks, growing on calcareous soils derived from Carboniferous limestones and shales, Keuper Marl, Lias clays, and occasionally alluvial gravels and clays. It grows in rides, along tracks and at the woodland edge where there is sufficient light. A wide range of associated species includes Deschampsia cespitosa, Euphorbia amygdaloides, Geum urbanum, Heracleum sphondylium, Prunella vulgaris, Rubus fruticosus, Stachys sylvatica, Torilis japonica, a variety of sedges and grasses, and scarce plants such as Paris quadrifolia and Vicia sylvatica.
It is a slender autumn-germinating annual or biennial, up to 70 cm high, though often shorter. Flowers appear from June onwards, and the stem leaves usually droop and fall in July. The light buoyant capsules fall when ripe and release seed to germinate near the parent or, as with other Euphorbia species, are frequently dispersed by ants which carry the capsules to the nest. Seeds have also been observed to float away on woodland trickles and streams (T.G.Evans, pers. obs.). E. serrulata requires open ground for establishment, and at least moderate light levels in relatively sheltered situations for successful development and flowering.
This species was first recorded in Britain, though erroneously as E. platyphyllos, by the renowned botanists the Reverend John Lightfoot and Sir Joseph Banks in June 1773 "by the Brook side, going from the Abbey (Tintern) to the Forge". It is native in Britain in east Monmouthshire and west Gloucestershire, its few occurrences outside this area considered to be garden escapes, though it is well naturalised in some places. E. serrulata was formerly locally abundant in about 24 sites in the two counties, though it has declined markedly in recent years. Since 1987, it has been recorded at seventeen sites, but was found at only nine in 1994 (and one other in 1995), many populations comprising fewer than twenty individuals. The main colonies now appear to lie within two Gloucestershire woods.
Numbers fall as shade and competition increase and as the succession develops. However, soil disturbance will stimulate the germination of even long-buried seed, and this has been observed, for instance, where ground has been 'topped' to remove bracken, and where vegetation has been cleared from banks. Likewise, coppicing of a wood after a gap of about 40 years, during which time E. serrulata was not seen, resulted in a suddenly large population. But one where E. serrulata was known in the 1900s, but then not coppiced for 75 years, lost the species. This suggests that the limit of seed viability may lie between 40 and 75 years, and that even a long coppicing cycle would ensure its survival (C. Hurford, pers. comm.).
The main causes of decline have been the replacement of old woodland with conifer plantations, the cessation of traditional woodland management, and the over-growth of colonies by vigorous and rank species. Of immediate benefit would be regular soil scarification or rotavation to allow the succession to begin again. The widening of paths and rides, and the restoration of woodland management, including coppicing and thinning, are also required.
Outside Britain, it occurs throughout western, central and southern Europe, eastwards to Turkey and the Crimea, perhaps extending to northern Iran and the Aral region of Tajikistan.
T. G. Evans