Gardens are a form of autobiography. -Sydney Eddison

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Euphorbia lactea

Euphorbia lactea or Candelabra plant, is part of the strikingly diverse Euphorbia family, whose better known cousins include the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and the neophyte favorite the 'Baseball cactus' (Euphorbia obesa). Be warned, Euphorbia are not related to their spiny sometime-neighbors the cati. No other taxa is more
commonly confused with true cacti than that of Euphorbia. The rich tapestry of the succulent world is often confusing, some Euphorbia's look more like a stereotypical cacti than even some cacti species. Euphorbia's can be found all over the world, but most originated in Africa our specimen a native of India, and has been used medicinally there made into a hot jam to treat rheumatism. If you cut a Euphorbia, it will secrete a sticky, milky-white fluid. Mind you, all plant parts are considered poisonous, especially the white, milky sap which the plant secretes in abundance through even the smallest nick. It is irritating to the skin, eyes and mouth. This fluid contains latex, a compound which nearly 1% of the population exhibits a serious allergy and a significant amount more have a mild allergy. I have a mild allergy, which exhibits itself during the Holidays, and for the duration of the Poinsettia procession through the nursery I can expect to have red, swollen arms. Flowers of Euphorbias are typically small nondescript buttons with no sepals or petals. Many Euphorbia's also have thorns, making them appear even more similar to cacti. Upon closer inspection, one can easily see that these are not true separate spines arising from an areole like that of a cacti but instead pointed hardened extensions of the skin.

Euphorbia lactea cv. 'White Ghost'

Euphorbia lactea is in fact a true tropical plant only hardy to 40°F and must grow it either in pot or in the ground in very protected location. This being said, it is one of the few columnar Euphorbias that do exceptionally well in very wet, humid climates. It needs bright light to partial shade for best appearance (the plant that shown here, to the right is the 'White Ghost' cultivar a highly variegated form which I grow in bright shade for even a small amount of sun burns it). It responds well to warmth, with its active growth period in the late spring and summer months and during this time it needs to be watered thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch (more than once a week during the height of summer). The most common failure in growing this plant is over watering, and during the winter months, waterings should be restricted to once over the winter. Another important key to success is drainage, using porous soil is imperative. This is a slow growing plant, though the cristate forms seem particularly slow growing. Cristate forms are usually grown as grafted plants and that may have something to do with their slow growth rate.

Euphorbia lactea forma cristata variegata

Many succulents exhibit the occasional 'monstrose' plant, where the variation from normal growth is due to genetic mutation. However, in the Euphorbia family, the crested growth can occur on normal plants. Sometimes it's due to variances in light intensity, or damage, but generally the causes are unknown. A crested plant may have some areas growing normally, and a cresting plant that looks like a brain, may revert to normal growth for no apparent reason. You can see normal growth in the bottom left of the top photo, this will need to removed so the crested section can continue to grow.

1 comment:

  1. How big can the "white ghost" be expected to get? I have one, and it seems to be growing quite a bit faster than I thought it would