Is The Devil’s Backbone Plant Poisonous?

Pedilanthus tithymaloides a broadleaf evergreen succulent hailing from the West Indies. It is commonly known as the Devil’s Backbone plant or Redbird Flower.

The plant is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, with thousands of varieties ranging from small succulents to tall trees. Poinsettias are common and familiar members of this family.

Devils backbone plant growing outdoorsPin
Devils backbone plant growing outdoors |

The Pedilanthus genus has merged into the Euphorbia genus. Pedilanthus tithymaloides now goes by the name “Euphorbia tithymaloides.”

Plants in the Euphorbiaceae family are full of a very toxic milky latex sap. The sap can cause severe irritation to the skin and eyes. In some instances, contact with this sap can cause sloughing of the skin and/or blindness. [source]

How Dangerous Is The Devil’s Backbone?

Its placement dramatically determines the level of risk posed by this plant. It poses little or no risk if kept as a houseplant on a high shelf, away from heavily traveled areas.

If it is growing freely along a pathway in a tropical setting where people and animals will brush against it, it could be quite hazardous.

Devil’s Backbone is a tropical plant, winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. It is often grown as a houseplant in most parts of the United States.

This succulent does well in sandy soil. It grows well outdoors in conducive settings of southern Florida.

As a houseplant, Redbird Flower typically grows to be a couple of feet high. In an outdoor setting, it may grow to be six feet high and three feet wide.

In either setting, prune to help maintain an attractive shape. You must take care not to come in contact with the sap.

Protect Yourself From Devil’s Backbone Sap?

When handling this Euphorbia plant, wear eye protection, gloves, long sleeves, and pants. Toss your clothes into the wash right after pruning or handling the plant. Take a shower to wash away any sap that may have gotten onto your skin.

It can take a while for symptoms to occur, so you are better off safe than sorry.

What Are The Symptoms of Toxicity?

If sap comes in contact with your skin, it can cause redness, inflammation, blistering, and even deep chemical burns. If the sap dries or thickens, you will not be able to get it off with plain, cool water. You will need to use milk or soap and cool water to remove it.

If sap comes in contact with your eyes, you may experience:

  • Gritty sensation
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Blindness
  • Watering
  • Itchiness
  • Burning

If you get the sap in your eyes, immediate first aid includes flushing the eyes with clean, cool water or a saline solution.

Be careful not to allow the liquid to run from one eye to the other. This may spread the sap over your skin and into the other eye. Tilt your head to allow the liquid to pour over the eye and out the outer corner, with as little skin contact as possible.

Even with this first aid, you should see a doctor right away. Bring a sample of the plant with you, as this will be very helpful to the doctor.

What If a Pet or Child Swallows the Sap?

Ingestion of the sap is rare because the purpose of this sap is to repel herbivores. It has a very unpleasant taste and causes an immediate burning sensation in the lips, mouth, and tongue.

If a significant amount is ingested, gastric distress and vomiting will ensue. If a pet, livestock, or a child does ingest this or any Euphorbia, seek medical assistance.

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