Euphorbia characias wulfenii (yoo-FOR-bee-uh kar-RAY-see-as wool-FEN-ee-eye) also known as Mediterranean spurge, hails from Turkey, the Balkans, and southern Europe.
This herbaceous perennial is a member of the Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee) a family.
The genus of the Euphorbia plant honors the physician of the king of Mauritania, Euphorbus.
Euphorbia Characias Care
Size & Growth
Wulfenii is a subspecies of Euphorbia characias. The shrubs differ from the main species only in height. Euphorbia characias may grow as high as 4′ feet. Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii tops out at 2′ or 3′ feet with a spread of about 2′ feet.
The narrow, grey-green leaves grow in spirals around the tall stems.
Flowering & Fragrance
Petaless, greenish yellow flower bracts top the long stems in a bottle brush formation from early spring through early fall. The flowers are attractive to pollinators of all sorts.
Although flowers can be nice looking in cut flower or dry flower arrangements, take great care when handling them. The sticky white sap in the stems is quite toxic.
Light & Temperature
These vigorous plants grow best in full sun but can tolerate part shade. Mediterranean spurge is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 8.
Watering & Feeding
These weedy plants are drought tolerant and do very well with occasional deep watering during hot summer months. Humidity is not well tolerated.
Excessive watering can be fatal. Plants may not return after a long, wet winter.
Fertilizer is not necessary.
Soil & Transplanting
Euphorbia tolerate very poor soils and must have sharply draining soil. Clay soil is not tolerated.
Grooming & Maintenance
When blooming finishes, cut back the stems down to the base to allow new stems to grow.
Additionally, attentive deadheading is recommended to prevent unwanted self-seeding.
How To Propagate Euphorbia Wulfenii
This enthusiastic plant self-seeds with wild abandon. Gather seeds and sow them fresh in the springtime or allow the plant to seed on its own.
Also, propagate Mediterranean spurge by division. However, this level of handling is not recommended due to the plants’.
Characias wulfenii Pest or Diseases
Mediterranean spurge is impervious to pests of all sorts including rabbits and deer.
Overwatering will cause root rot, and cold, wet winters will kill the plant entirely.
Is Characias Considered Toxic or Poisonous to People, Kids, Pets?
Every part of this plant is reported to be quite toxic. Skin contact with the milky sap can cause severe irritation, rashes, and blistering.
If sap comes in contact with your eyes, blindness could result. Even handling the dried seeds or flowers could cause irritation.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that people who are very sensitive to the sap may have very serious reactions resulting in long term problems such as liver impairment.
Be sure to use extreme caution when handling this plant.
Wear gloves, long sleeves and pants, and eye protection. Wash up immediately after handling. [source]
Is The Plant Considered Invasive?
In areas where this Euphorbia is winter hardy, it is considered invasive because of its aggressive reseeding tendencies.
Plants tend to spread the seeds on their own. Birds also spread seeds.
Another fast-growing Euphorbia is the donkey tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites).
Suggested Uses For Characias Euphorbia
Mediterranean spurge is a good choice for a privacy screen along a distant fence line, xeriscaping or as an individual specimen plant in climates where it does not self-seed and spread.
Because of the toxic nature of the plant, it’s wise to place it off the beaten track.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people have very severe reactions even with light casual contact with the plant.