Euphorbia have grown to be some of our favorite plants to care for in our ever-growing plant collection. Since we live in New Orleans the humidity and subtropical temperatures are just perfect for these plants.
What the hell is a Euphorbia?
Pronounced yew-for-bee-uh this genus in the Euphorbiaceae family is incredibly varied in its plant forms and habitats, ranging from large, succulent trees and tiny, compact succulents to herbaceous perennials and semi- or evergreen, herbaceous shrubs. There are at least 2,100 species and is one of the most diverse groups of flowering plants on Earth. Many species are more well-known as “spurges”.All flowers in the Euphorbiaceae are unisexual, meaning they are either male or female only. Something they ALL have in common is a milky, white latex sap-like secretion produced when the plant is cut.So all euphorbia owners beware - make sure to wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly after handling. The sap is toxic and extremely irritating to the eyes, nose, mouth, skin, and if ingested.
A great resource to learn more about the anatomy, genetic makeup, and history of Euphorbiaceae is Euphorbia: A Global Inventory of Spurges.
Care tips: Porous soil with adequate drainage. Water thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch during active growing season. Requires bright light for best appearance, and should be given a winter resting period at which time less water should be given. Protect from frost.
A Look at Our Collection
Euphorbia tirucalli - Pencil Cactus, Milkbush
You’ll be able to find these at most plant stores (even Home Depot or Lowe’s - although we recommend buying plants from local stores/nurseries). In fact, the pencil cactus is not a cactus at all. It is a native to a wide range of regions from north Madagascar to tropical and subtropical Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and India. It is happiest in sunny warm spots indoors or outdoors and can grow up to 25 feet tall. It was first described by Linnaeus in 1753 with the specific epithet taken from the Indian Malayalam names 'tiru' meaning "good" and 'kalli' a name in reference to medicinal qualities of the plant.
After some slow growth indoors by a sunny window ours seems to flourish when it is outside on our porch.
Red Euphorbia trigona - Royal Red, Goodluck Plant
Originally from Central Africa this plant is a majestic burgundy colored cultivar of Euphorbia trigona. A cultivar is actually a change in a plant caused by environmental or other factors. It is not a hybrid, but rather a change in a plant’s cellular DNA. Just like the pencil cactus it does well in bright areas in a home or office and on the patio in more temperate regions. It can grow up to 6 feet tall. In Gabon, it is used as a ritual plant and hedge.
Ours started out in a bright sunlit bathroom, but we’ve found it has flourished on our porch. As this plant grows it is important to transfer it to a wider shaped pot that is not too deep as it has a shallow and small root system and could easily fall over.
Euphorbia lactea - Dragon Bones Tree, Candelabra Cactus, Mottled Spurge
This beauty is native to tropical Asia, but mainly found in India. It has been cultivated in the West Indies, Florida, and many global tropical areas. There are several hybrids and forms of this plant which make precise descriptions more difficult. The Euphorbia lactea is a many-branched, milky-juiced shrub that can grow up to 15-16 feet tall.
It is mainly grown as a houseplant, happily nestled in a sunny, partly shaded area indoors or outdoors. It is also used as a hedge plant. Ours has flourished outside on the porch since we live in subtropical temperatures.
Euphorbia lactea cristata - Coral Cactus, Crested Euphorbia
A native to India and Sri Lanka, the Euphorbia lactea cristata has become naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The Coral Cactus isn’t a cactus at all, but two plants joined together - Euphorbia lactea cristata grafted to a Euphorbia neriifolia root. The crest is a result of a rare mutation (either insects or genetic). The mutations occur when the cells at the tip of the branch where growth occurs begin to multiply at a faster rate and creates beautiful whorls and fans. Preferring full to partial shade it can thrive indoors or outdoors (only in temperate zones). Unlike its relatives, it remains more compact and manageable.
It can be grown as a houseplant and also as a landscape plant. This is one of our newest Euphorbia acquisitions so we haven’t had much time to study it, but it seems to be happy on the porch.
Euphorbia neriifolia - Indian Spurge Tree, Oleander Spurge
Native to regions in East Asia, Euphorbia neriifolia has a wide range of local medicinal uses particularly in Ayurvedic medicine. Latex from heated leaves relieve earache. The oleander-leafed spurge is also grown as an ornamental hedge in parks and gardens. The dried stalks are used for cheap firewood. It can grow up to 6-19 feet tall. Like most Euphorbia it loves the sun outdoors, but can be grown indoors in a sunlit room.
This beauty was an incredible yard sale find. (Hint: You can find some pretty unique plants at yard sales, just sayin’.) It was living in our sunlit bathroom, but now has a found a happy home on the porch.
All photographs taken by Collection of Collections, unless otherwise noted.