Euphorbia Plants: Growing and Care Of Spiny, Succulent Spurge Plants

Euphorbia (eu-four’-bi-ah) plants come from the genus Euphorbiaceae (eu-four-bi-ay’-see-ee) that is made up of a diverse and unusual group of plants.

More than 1600 species of Euphorbia plants (spurge family) are found in almost every region of the world. Not all Euphorbias are succulents.

The name Euphorbia commemorates Euphorbus the Greek physician to Juba, King of Mauritania (part of modern Algeria), who reigned from 25 B.C. to 24 A.D.

Euphorbias have one of the oldest botanical Latin names.

flowering Euphorbia polychroma

Some are common weeds and others like the Euphorbia marginata (Snow on the Mountain) and the Euphorbia heterophylla (Mexican Fire plant) are annuals.

Others like the Euphorbia pulcherrima the popular Christmas favorite Poinsettia is a perennial bush or tree.

Many succulent Euphorbias resemble cactus and even carry cactus names like:

  • Euphorbia mammillaris
  • Euphorbia opuntioides
  • Euphorbia cereiformis

The Difference Between Succulent Euphorbias And Cactus

Newcomers often wonder what are the difference between cacti and succulent Euphorbias

The Milky Sap

Euphorbias have latex or a milky white sap

In some species, the sap is poisonous, bitter or burning. In others, the white sap makes a low-grade rubber

Cactus rarely have a milky sap except for some Mammillaria species.

The Euphorbia Spines

The spines on Euphorbias come out of the stem

Cacti produce spines from areoles (growth centers) and along the stems

These spines are of three types:

  • Woody, sharp, side shoots along the stem
  • Small hardened leaf-like appendages forming pairs of spines;
  • Woody flower stems which remain on the plant for protection.

The Euphorbia Flowers or Blooms

The inflorescence of Euphorbias is complicated, unlike the showy, simple cactus bloom.

The euphorbia blossom flower cluster is called a cyathium (sy-ath’-ee-um).

Flowering Euphorbia shrub

Spurge Euphorbia Care

The genus Euphorbia offers a wide variety and complexity of growth forms, euphorbias are amazingly easy to grow.

The euphorbias are not difficult to grow and are low maintenance.

Like most succulents, they must have ample sunshine and air, protection from frost, and careful watering.

Euphorbias Grow In Unique Forms and Sizes

Despite the variety and complexity of forms of growth, growing euphorbias are amazingly easy.

Without special attention, these decorative plants remain attractive for several years.

They may not hold the beauty of flowering plants and their appearance be not as graceful, but their beauty lies in their unique forms and shapes.

Sizes of Euphorbia species range from small 2″ inches high to over 30′ feet tall or more.

Flowering and Fragrance

The blooms are often inconspicuous. The inflorescence of the Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii), and the Poinsettia looks like a single flower.

The Euphorbia fruit is three-lobed, with each lobe holding a single seed, bursting when ripe.

Light & Temperature

All varieties need as much bright, direct light as possible. Many grow well in full sun.

Euphorbias do best with day time temperatures of 70° – 80° degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures of 55° – 65° degrees Fahrenheit.

Watering and Feeding

Water thoroughly and allow to the soil to become dry to the touch before watering again.

Plants do best in low to average humidity.

Feed plants monthly from March to September using a liquid flowering-houseplant food for blooming varieties and on an all-purpose plant food for others.

Soil & Transplanting

When necessary repot to one size larger pot using a cactus and succulent soil mix.

Grooming And Maintenance

Wear gloves and take great care when handling euphorbias as they “bleed” very easily when damaged.

This not only disfigures the plant, but the milky sap is often caustic and poisonous.

It may cause serious injury if it comes in contact with the eyes, the mouth, or an open cut.

In mild climates, many species grow during the winter season.

In colder areas, help keep the plants dormant by keeping plants cool and dry.

Moisture combined with cold can quickly introduce rot.

To stimulate new growth give plants more water as the weather warms up.

Propagating Euphorbia Plants

Propagate plants from seeds or stem cuttings.

Before sticking cuttings into potting soil, allow the succulent stem cuttings to dry and callous for a day or two.

Plants sometimes root slowly.

Some species propagate by offsets; but others, like Euphorbia obesa are propagated from seed since they do not make offsets.

Most euphorbias are quickly and easily raised from seed.

Euphorbia Pest or Disease Problems

Most Euphorbia plants grow with few pest problems.

The most common pests are spider mites, mealybugs and plant scale on some of the leafy varieties.

Overwatering can lead to root rot. Grow plants in well-drained soil and on the dry side.

Popular Euphorbias To Grow

Crown of Thorns Euphorbia

There are so many Euphorbias, to choose from as top-notch houseplants or for use as garden plants.

Below are some of the more popular ones.

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