Euphorbia Lactea Care: How To Grow Dragon Bone Cactus

Euphorbia lactea is a type of spurge, the common name for the Euphorbia plant genus and Euphorbiaceae family, often reaching up to 16’ feet. 

Spiny Euphorbia Lactea aka Dragon Bones TreePin

Euphorbia lactea has many common names:

  • Dragon bones plant
  • Mottled spurge
  • Frilled fan
  • Candelabra spurge
  • Candelabra cactus
  • Candlestick tree
  • False cactus

Like other spurge plants, the Dragon Bones Tree is native to the tropical climate of Asia, such as India.

In its native regions, it grows outdoors as an ornamental plant. 

Euphorbia Lactea Quick Care Tips

  • Botanical Name: Euphorbia lactea
  • Common Name(s): Mottled Spurge, Frilled Fan, Dragon bones tree, Candelabra spurge, Candelabra cactus, Candlestick tree, False cactus
  • Synonyms: Euphorbia neriifolia, Euphorbia splendens
  • Pronunciation: Yoo-FOR-bee-uh, lak-TAY-uh
  • Family & Origin: Euphorbiaceae family, native to tropical parts of Asia, India
  • Growability: Easy to grow
  • Grow Zone: USDA zones 10-11
  • Size: Can grow up to 16 feet tall
  • Flowering: Produces small, purple flowers on the tip of its branches
  • Light: Full sun to partial shade, but avoid afternoon sun
  • Humidity: Tolerates low humidity
  • Temperature: Thrives in warm temperatures between 70-80°F
  • Soil: Rich, well-draining soil
  • Water: Weekly watering; water thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch
  • Fertilizer: Fertilize with diluted fertilizer at 1/2 strength once per month during the spring and summer
  • Pests & Diseases: Can be susceptible to aphids, mealybugs, mites, and nematodes; May also develop root rot if overwatered.
  • Propagation: Can be propagated through seeds or cuttings
  • Plant Uses: Makes a great indoor or outdoor ornamental plant. Can also be used in xeriscaping.

In temperate regions, mottled spurge like its cousin, the African Milk Tree (Euphorbia trigona), is an easy-to-grow houseplant.

Related: More about Euphorbia trigona care.

Euphorbia Lactea Care

Size and Growth

The Euphorbia lactea cactus is a shrub producing ridged succulent branches measuring about 2″ inches thick.

  • The branches feature multiple cross-sections covered in spiny growth. 
  • The spiny sections are only about a quarter-inch thick and eventually produce small leaves.
  • The ends of the individual sections and the leaves they produce are reddish.
  • The leaves are small and deciduous, dropping at the end of each year. 
  • In some cases, the plant doesn’t produce leaves at all.
  • When grown outdoors in ideal conditions, it may reach up to 16′ feet. 
  • When grown in a container, it rarely exceeds 2′ feet.

Flowering and Fragrance

Along with limited foliage, the plant produces insignificant flowers or no flowers or fragrances. 

It’s mostly grown for its interesting succulent branches.

Light and Temperature

Grow in full sun or partial shade in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 11. This plant prefers warm temperatures ranging between 70° to 80° degrees Fahrenheit.

In cooler areas, grow lactea in a container and keep it outdoors during the warmer months. 

Bring indoors before freezing temperatures set in.

Dragon Bone Cactus Watering and Feeding

While Euphorbia lactea candel has succulent branches, it cannot tolerate long periods of drought. 

During the summer, it often needs weekly watering.

  • Check the soil a couple of times per week. 
  • If the top several inches of the soil is dry, the plant needs water.
  • Water deeply, but don’t allow the roots to sit in soaked soil. 
  • If the water doesn’t drain well, add organic matter or peat moss to the existing soil.

During the winter, it may not need watering at all. Moreover, it tolerates low humidity.

The typical recommendation is to water it thoroughly after bringing it indoors and then wait until the spring to resume watering.

Fertilizer is only needed for poor soil. Use a diluted fertilizer at 1/2 strength once per month during the spring and summer.

Soil and Transplanting

  • Grow in rich, well-drained soil. It also grows well in premade succulent or cactus potting soil.
  • Repot container plants every two or three years as needed to deal with the growing root system. 
  • Use the same type of soil when transplanting.
  • Always use a container weighing more than the plant. 
  • Euphorbia lactea plant can become top-heavy and may tip over without a stable pot.
  • Wear long-sleeved clothing and gloves when transplanting to avoid exposure to the poisonous sap in the branches.

Grooming and Maintenance

The Dragon Bones Tree doesn’t need grooming.

Green and white Euphorbia lactea plantPin

Euphorbia Lactea Propagation

You can propagate Dragon Bones tree by seed or cuttings. Unfortunately, cultivated lactea Euphorbia rarely flowers, so it requires the purchase of seeds.

Cuttings provide the easiest propagation solution

Here’s how to propagate euphorbia lactea via cuttings:

  • Remember to wear gloves and long-sleeved clothing when taking cuttings, as the sap should flow freely after the plant is cut into.
  • Take cuttings in the spring or summer during active growth. 
  • Use a sharp knife to cut off one of the stems where it connects to the branch.
  • Wash the sap away with cold water and then dip the cutting in the rooting hormone powder
  • Allow it to dry for about one week to let the cut callous over.
  • Stick the cutting in the soil, placing it upright. 
  • Mist the surface and wait for the cutting to take root.

To encourage root growth, place the cutting in a small pot and set it on a heating mat. 

It establishes roots more quickly in warm conditions.

Dragon Bones Cactus Pest or Diseases

Euphorbia dragon bones attract several pests, such as aphids, mealybugs, mites, and nematodes, due to the milky latex substance found in the leaves.

Other concerns include toxicity and invasiveness. 

  • All parts of the dragon tree bones plant contain low levels of toxins, which cause mild irritation if ingested. 
  • Children and small pets may experience more severe reactions, so keep them away from the plant.
  • The milky substance found in the spurge cactus plant may also cause general skin irritation. 
  • Wear gloves when handling the plant.
  • While some species of Euphorbia plants are invasive in certain regions, the Dragon Bones Tree isn’t listed as invasive in any part of North America. 
  • However, the stems and seeds can allow it to produce new growth if left unchecked.

Suggested Euphorbia Lactea Uses

The dragon bone plant is a great houseplant. One sport or cultivar is Euphorbia lactea Cristata, aka Coral Cactus, with a crested top that provides an interesting focal point for any house room. 

Grow the dragon bone tree in a large pot and keep away from pets and children.

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