Spurge vs Purslane Lawn Weeds: Differences and Similarities

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Written By: Mark Marino

a Massachusetts Core Applicator License holder and owner/operator of Lawn Phix,

Updated on

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When it comes to lawn weeds, some property owners aren’t too concerned about the distinguishing features that differentiate one weed from another. However, when it comes to some look-alike weeds like spurge and purslane, it’s important to know the difference as spurges are poisonous and purslane is not. Spurges release a milky white sap that can be irritating to skin, so it’s a weed you should wear rubber gloves to handle and should also keep away from children and pets. Conversely, purslane weeds are wild edibles with tiny yellow flowers and almost always smaller than spurges. Here, we’ll explore the similarities between these lawn weeds in detail. 

Difference Between Spurge and Purslane

At first glance, spurge and purslane appear rather similar, but upon close inspection, it’s not difficult to note their differences. While there are many different spurge species, spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is among the most common types. Spurges generally feature characteristics such as:

  • Woody and thinner stems than purslane
  • Spurge leaves are not fleshy 
  • Stems release a milky sap when broken 
  • Hairy stems
  • Usually larger than purslane weeds
  • Creeping, outward growth pattern along the ground
  • May produce tiny white flowers that are similar to baby’s breath plants

Identifying purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is not difficult upon close inspection. Purslane plants are wild edibles that are known to be tasty and quite nutritious. Like olive oil, purslane is rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Some people (though more common in the past) cultivated varieties of purslane as ground cover or to add to salads because of its tasty appeal. Of course, spurge weeds are not edible plants and will cause stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested. Its milky white sap can cause extreme eye and skin irritation. Other characteristics to help you identify purslane and distinguish it from spurge include:

  • Fleshy leaves; purslane has succulent leaves that look similar to jade plants
  • More erect, prostrate growth pattern
  • Red, fleshy stems are thicker than that stems of spurge (also as stems with reddish tinge)
  • Produces tiny yellow flowers 
  • Purslane weed stems are smooth 
  • Purslane stems do not milky white sap (if you break the stem and milky sap is released, it’s not a purslane edible plant!)
  • Edible plants (identify purslane growing in your yard correctly before eating it)
spotted spurge milky sap
Spurge lawn weed with milky sap

Similarities Between Spurge and Purslane

Both spurge and purslane share certain characteristics. Both of these wild plants will grow in lawns but will also sprout up in sidewalk cracks. Some species of these plants may even grow near one another. Both of these wild plants will happily take up residence in struggling lawns that have bare patches. Some similarities between these two are:

  • Stems with reddish coloring
  • At first glance, both appear to be sprawling plants
  • Fast growing plants
  • Rich green colored leaves

What Is Spurge?

Spurge such as spotted spurge, aka Euphorbia maculata, is a fast-growing summer annual that can become a nuisance when growing in lawns and garden beds. Spurge growing in your lawn will look out of place and detract from your lawn’s health and curb appeal. Spurge is a poisonous plant that produces a milky white sap that can cause serious skin and eye irritation. Fortunately, spurge is not difficult to kill. You can use a broadleaf herbicide to rid your lawn and gardens of this noxious weed.

What Is Purslane?

Portulaca oleracea, more commonly known as purslane plant, that features succulent leaves and seed pods filled with tiny black seeds. Purslane, like other wild foods, is tasty and ideal for use in salad with its copious amounts of omega 3 fatty acids and other important nutrients. You can eat purslane and include it in purslane recipes when it’s property identified. Purslane plant produces small yellow flowers and does not produce milky sap like spurge. Although eating purslane is nutritious, you may not want it to grow in your lawn or gardens. To get rid of purslane growing in your landscape, you can treat it with Tzone, a selective broadleaf herbicide.

Purslane vs Spurge FAQs

How poisonous is spurge?

Eating copious amounts of spurge has been known to make wildlife sick. If humans or pets eat spurge, expect to feel nauseous. You may also experience vomiting and diarrhea or require medical treatment. The milky sap contained in spurge can cause severe skin and eye irritation.

Can I eat purslane from my yard?

Eating purslane from your yard is safe if you identify it properly as purslane and have not treated your garden or lawn with chemicals. Be sure to identify purslane correctly first as you would any wild plants before you eat them. Eating purslane used to be more common, especially when purslane was purposely grown as edible ground cover.

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Author's Note: this piece has been updated for accuracy since its first publication on
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Author: Mark Marino
My name is Mark Marino, and I am the founder, owner, and operator of Lawn Phix. With a passion for lawn care and turf nutrition for over a decade, I've dedicated countless hours to correcting soil and perfecting lawns. Today, my expertise, backed by formal courses at UMass Extension Pesticide Education, allows me to offer top-tier lawn care services and advice. I am a fully licensed and insured lawn care applicator in Massachusetts, specializing in comprehensive turf nutrition, weed control, and lawn pest control. My license number is AL-0053865. Contact me at [email protected] or +1 (508) 500-8402.

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