Euphorbia tirucalli (a.k.a. Firestick Plant, Pencil Cactus, Milk Bush, Naked Lady, Pencil Tree, Malabar Tree) like most members of the Euphorbiaceae family is an interesting, attractive, easy-care plant that is filled with irritating latex sap.
This corrosive sap is, indeed, quite toxic to people, dogs, cats, horses and most other living creatures. In this article, we discuss Firestick Plant toxicity and share advice on treating and avoiding it.
What Parts Of The Firestick Plant Are Poisonous or Toxic?
There is no safe part of the Pencil Tree. Any time you handle any part of it, you run the risk of coming in contact with the sap. It is produced in copious amounts and contains a toxic component known as diterpene esters.
If the plant is bumped, cut, or even disturbed, the sap will drip or even squirt to protect the plant against further molestation.
What Are The Symptoms Of Poisoning?
Even if you only get the sap on your gardening gloves or your clothing, you can still be in danger from contact with it for hours or even days. Even after it is dry, it can cause severe skin irritation and serious eye injury.
Contact with the eyes results in light sensitivity, redness, swollen eyelids, blurred vision and even bleeding. Getting sap in your eyes can cause damage to the corneas and even blindness if not treated soon enough.
For eye exposure, rinse the affected eye immediately and continuously for fifteen minutes taking great care not to allow the water to run into the unaffected eye or over your skin. Irrigate the eyes first and then seek medical help. [source]
Skin contact can cause swelling, severe burning, itching and a serious rash that can result in blisters causing the skin to peel off.
If your skin comes in contact with Pencil Plant sap, you should sluice the area with cool water right away. Take great care not to wash the sap onto another part of your body.
For example, you should not take a warm or hot shower immediately after handling this plant because this will tend to spread the sap rather than removing it causing even more injury.
If ingested, the corrosive sap will cause severe burning of the lips, mouth and tongue. Extreme salivation, stomach cramps and vomiting are common symptoms of ingestion.
If not treated, ingestion of Milk Bush sap can be fatal. Always seek medical help for ingestion of Pencil Tree sap.
Allergic reactions are quite possible with any sort of contact with the sap (skin, eye or ingestion) and result in shortness of breath, jangly nerves, anxiety and even anaphylactic shock.
How To Protect Yourself While Handling The Firestick Plant
The best way to protect yourself against the corrosive sap of the Firestick Plant is to simply not have this plant in your yard. There are many plants fitting that bill – Angel Trumpets (Brugmansia) and Crown of Thorns for example.
If you encounter it in another setting, take great care not to touch it or handle it in any way. The stems break off easily, and the plant can actually aggressively shoot sap.
If you do have this plant in your yard, it’s smart to set up physical barriers to prevent accidental injury to yourself, visitors, children and pets. Put a fence around it to protect all and sundry from harm.
When pruning or handling the pencil cactus, wear disposable gloves and eye protection, along with long pants and a long-sleeved shirt made of materials that are heavy enough to deflect the sap if it should get on you.
NOTE: I remember early in my nursery career having to prune the pencil cactus. Googles, gloves, facemask, and Tyvek spray suit!
When you are done working with the plant, remove your protective gear and clothing (preferably in the garage or otherwise outside of your home).
Be sure to remove your disposable gloves correctly to avoid accidental contact with any sap that may be on the gloves.
Wash your hands, forearms, face and any other skin (or hair) that might have come in contact with sap and then take a cool shower.
If you prune or cut down a Firestick Plant, don’t burn the cut limbs as the fumes are quite toxic. Be sure to dispose of the debris properly by sealing it securely in sturdy plastic bags that are clearly marked as hazardous.
They can be collected by your trash pickup service, but they should not pose a risk to the sanitation workers.