How Toxic Is The Firestick Plant? The Details

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Euphorbia tirucalli has common names such as Firestick Plant, Pencil Cactus, Milk Bush, Naked Lady, Pencil Tree, Malabar Tree, and like most members of the Euphorbiaceae family is an interesting, attractive, easy-care plant that is filled with irritating latex sap. 

The poinsettia and the Crown of Thorns are two of the best-known Euphorbias. It is native to Africa but is widely distributed in different parts of the world.

Red firestick plantPin

The very colorful Firesticks plant is a particularly colorful horticultural form of Euphorbia tirucalli, a small tree with succulent, cylindrical branches and tiny leaves that are quite short-lived.

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. 

The plant contains a milky, white sap that is caustic and may cause severe irritation to the skin, mucosa, and eyes upon contact.

In addition, the sap is among the most irritating plant substances known and causes harmful effects following dermal or mucous membrane contact, particularly ocular exposure.

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 ester.

If the plant is bumped, cut, or disturbed, the sap will drip or even squirt to protect the plant against further molestation. 

The genus is characterized by tiny petal-less flowers enclosed by bracts that are often brightly colored and very showy. 

Some spurges, such as Euphorbia horrida and Euphorbia echinus, are leafless but have swollen spiny stems that resemble a cactus.

Vivid red and green succulent plant.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @succitupsacramento

What Are The Symptoms Of Poisoning?

Even if you only get the sap on your gardening gloves or 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.

This plant is classified by poison control centers as a chemical skin irritant. 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 temporary blindness if not treated soon enough.

Colorful succulent plant close-up.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @kevincaronart

It should be noted that dermal exposure to the plant can sometimes result in a delayed reaction. Still, it is best not to wait for symptoms to appear before taking your pet to the veterinarian in any case of plant ingestion or exposure.

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 milky sap rather than remove 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. Many plants are 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.

Vibrant red and green succulents in sunlight.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @whitfillnursery

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).

Related: Tips On Removing Sap From Clothes

Red pencil-like succulent plants.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @justjawnie

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 the 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 sanitation workers.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a list of toxic and non-toxic plants for animals.

How To Care For A Firestick Plant

Euphorbia Tirucalli grows best in full sun. Partial shade may be tolerated as long as the plant meets its sunlight requirement most of the time.

The three essential care tips for growing firesticks are bright light, sandy soil, and occasional watering.

Before moving the plant outdoors or increasing the amount of sunlight it receives, it is better to acclimate the plant to prevent sunburn.

Vibrant red succulent plant with finger-like stems.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @allterrainaz

Usually, fire sticks succulent have low water needs. But if you keep its soil wet for longer, it may lead to root rot. 

You can use the normal succulent and cactus watering method. If you live in a place with higher humidity, you can water less often.

Grow the fire-stick succulent in a container that has holes at the bottom to allow excess water to drain out of it. This will prevent root rot, one of the most common problems with succulents.

In freezing cold winters, frost clothes, and mini greenhouses can help them survive. You can use the same succulent watering needs for sticks of fire plants as well.

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