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Euphorbia tirucalli (Pencil Tree)

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Scientific Name

Euphorbia tirucalli L.

Common Names

African Milk Bush, Finger Euphorbia, Finger Tree, Firestick Plants, Indian Tree Spurge, Milk Bush, Milk Hedge, Naked Lady, Pencil Bush, Pencil Cactus, Pencil Euphorbia, Pencil Tree, Petroleum Plant, Rubber Euphorbia, Rubber Hedge Euphorbia, Rubber Hedge Plant, Sticks on Fire, Fire Stick Plant

Synonyms

Arthrothamnus tirucalli, Euphorbia geayi, Euphorbia laro, Euphorbia media, Euphorbia rhipsaloides, Euphorbia scoparia, Euphorbia suareziana, Euphorbia viminalis, Tirucalia indica, Tirucalia tirucalli

Scientific Classification

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Subfamily: Euphorbioideae
Tribe: Euphorbieae
Subtribe: Euphorbiinae
Genus: Euphorbia

Description

Euphorbia tirucalli is a striking succulent shrub or small tree that usually grows up to 16.5 feet (5 m) tall but occasionally may reach up to 33 feet (10 m). Stems are fleshy, smooth, green, cylindrical, up to 0.3 inch (0.8 cm) in diameter and often produced in whorls. When new, they bear up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long leaves that soon drop. Flowers are yellow, inconspicuous and carried in clusters at the apex of the short branches or in the angles of the branches. They appear during the cooler months of the year. Fruits are pale green with a pink tinge, tripartite capsules up to 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) in diameter and covered with soft hairs.

Photo via dariveris.gr

Hardiness

USDA hardiness zones 10a to 11b: from 30 °F (−1.1 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Euphorbias are very easy to care for. These plants require a little pampering to become established, but once they are, they are self-sufficient. In fact, more die from too much care and watering than from neglect. Euphorbias need well-draining soil and lots of sunlight. They are not particular about soil pH, but they cannot tolerant wet soil. Unlike most succulents, Euphorbia does not handle long periods of drought well. It may need weekly watering during the summer. Water whenever the soil is dry several inches below the surface. Water deeply, but don't let them sit in wet soil, which can cause root rot. Add some organic matter or fertilizer to the planting hole. If you are growing them in containers or your soil is poor, feed with a half-strength fertilizer monthly.

These succulents can be grown from seed, but they can be difficult to germinate (or even find). They are usually propagated by cuttings. This can be tricky, because of the exuding sap. Rooting hormone is recommended with Euphorbias. They tend to grow problem-free, but there are a few pests and diseases to be alert for.

Learn more at How to Grow and Care for Euphorbia.

Toxicity

Euphorbia tirucalli contains a milky sap that is extremely irritating to the skin and mucosa and is toxic. Exposure to it can cause blindness lasting several days. Skin contact causes severe irritation, redness, and a burning sensation. If ingested, it can cause burns to the mouth, lips, and tongue. It is suggested to wear eye protection gear and gloves for handling the plant.

Origin

Euphorbia tirucalli is native to Africa.

Subspecies, Varieties, Forms, Cultivars, and Hybrids

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