Euphorbia cotinifolia (botanical name) [yoo-FOR-bee-uh, kot-in-ih-FOH-lee-uh] is a leafy plant with interesting heart-shaped leaves.
Native to South America and Mexico, this broadleaf tropical shrub can reach 10’ – 15’ feet tall and produces lovely small white flowers.
It belongs to the Euphorbia plant genus and the diverse family: Euphorbiaceae (spurge).
The botanical name comes from the words ‘cotinus’ (smoke tree) and ‘folia’ (leaf).
Common names include:
- Smoketree spurge
- Red-leaf Euphorbia
- Tropical smoke bush
- Caribbean copper plant
- Mexican shrubby spurge
- Red Spurge
Euphorbia plant types (Crown of Thorns plants, Crotons, Poinsettia) produce a poisonous sap when its purplish stems holding on long petioles are broken, commonly used in folk remedies in Central America, but it is a skin irritant.
In North America, it’s commonly grown as an ornamental plant using the following plant care methods.
Euphorbia Cotinifolia Care
Size & Growth
Red-leaf euphorbia is a fast-growing plant. It can grow quickly in warm temperatures, reaching a height of 6′ – 8′ feet.
Cutting it back helps maintain shorter, bushier growth with red stems and red heart-shaped leaves.
The reddish color almost has a copper or rust-colored hue to it.
Flowering and Fragrance
The plant produces tiny flowers with creamy-white petals on pale yellow bracts forming at the tips of the long stems.
Due to their small size, the flowers are not very showy. They don’t produce a fragrance, either, but are interesting to look at.
The plant can flower year-round.
Light & Temperature
Outside of USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11, keep the plant indoors during the winter.
It cannot handle frost or extremely dry conditions.
The tropical smoke bush grows best in bright light or full sun, but it can tolerate a little bit of shade.
It prefers warm, humid conditions.
Watering and Feeding
Water regularly throughout the growing season and only use liquid fertilizer during the warmer months.
Unlike most succulents, Euphorbia does not handle long periods of drought well, therefore it’s not very drought tolerant.
If brought inside for the winter, it may not require frequent watering.
Check it every few days, and water as needed.
If the leaves start to droop, it’s likely getting too much water.
Soil & Transplanting
Use light and porous well-drained soil to ensure the plant gets optimal drainage.
If the soil contains too much clay or sand, add compost or peat moss to make it more porous.
Repot the plant every year or two, moving up to a larger container as needed.
If allowed to grow, it can reach up to 8’ feet tall and may eventually require a large pot to keep it from tipping over.
Transplant the plant in the late spring, before its bloom time.
To encourage bushier growth, pinch the tops of young plants.
With older plants, trim back the stems in the early spring to force new growth.
NOTE: When grooming the plant, use caution to avoid getting the milky sap on your hands or arms.
How to Propagate Smoketree Spurge
Cuttings provide the best way to propagate red leaves euphorbia.
- Use semi-hard or woody cuttings. Softwood cuttings also work but require more warmth and humidity to take root.
- For the best results, take hardwood cuttings with a thickness matching a standard pencil.
- If possible, take cuttings in the early spring when cutting back the plant.
- Leave some of the leaves and side stems on the cuttings if the young plants will receive enough sunlight and moisture. Otherwise, remove the leaves before planting.
- After cutting the plant, let the sap dry out.
- Avoid touching it, as it may cause skin irritation.
- Wait for the sap to dry, and then dip the tips of the cuttings in rooting hormone.
- Plant in a pot containing porous propagation mix.
- The main consideration is humidity.
- Keep the young plants in a humid spot.
- If the room doesn’t stay humid, mist the cuttings daily until they take root.
Red-leaf Euphorbia Pests or Diseases
The biggest threat to the plant is over-watering.
When over-watering and not providing the plant with enough sunlight, it may start to develop mildew or fungus and attract pests.
Treat pest problems with miticide or pesticides, depending on the threat.
Spraying the leaves with water may also help remove small insects or spider mites.
Fungicide helps stop the spread of the fungus, but severe fungal infections may require the disposal of the entire plant.
Over-watering the plant while ensuring it receives enough warmth and sunlight can lead to drooping leaves.
If the leaves start to droop, ensure the soil has good drainage and limit watering until the health of the plant returns.
Besides drooping leaves, watch out for the sap. The stems produce a sap known to cause skin irritation. It may also cause digestive distress if ingested.
Keep the plant away from small children and pets, and use caution when trimming back or handling the plant.
To protect the skin, wear gloves before trimming the stems or taking cuttings for propagation.
Suggested Tropical Smoke Bush Uses
Train the plant as a shrub or a small tree.
Thanks to its distinct copper-red foliage, it looks great when grown in a white ceramic pot.