Euphorbias are a species of plant primarily found in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Madagascar. The name of the genus derives from Euphorbus, the Greek physician of King Juba II of Numidia, who married the daughter of Anthony and Cleopatra.
Euphorbias are easy to grow perennial plants that are tough and have few problems. This genus is extremely varied in its plant forms and habitats, ranging from large, succulent trees and tiny, compact succulents to herbaceous perennials and semi- or evergreen, herbaceous shrubs.
Many species are notable for these peculiar flowers, as well as their handsome foliage and their remarkable form. Their unique flower structure consists of conspicuous leaf bracts of yellow, red, purple, brown, or green, with tiny, male and female floral parts in contrasting colors.
You won’t find a better low-maintenance annual for your beds, borders, or containers than euphorbia. This tough plant offers outstanding heat and drought resistance.
Popular for their richly colored leaves and unusual flowers, with over 2,000 types, you’re sure to find one that will thrive in your garden, no matter what part of the country that you grow in.
Instead of showy flower petals, euphorbia has modified leaves, called bracts.
Euphorbia thrives in full sun, which ensures the best and brightest flowers and continuous blossoms. Although the plants tolerate part or filtered sun, they will set fewer blossoms and muted, looser foliage.
Even during long periods of drought, they’ll keep their display of blossoms. Some euphorbias are succulents and can be grown as you would a cactus. Euphorbias perform best in well-drained soil. If kept in wet soil, euphorbias rot.
When cut or damaged, euphorbia exudes a milky white poisonous sap that deer and rabbits don’t like. The milky sap or latex of Euphorbia plant is highly toxic and an irritant to the skin and eye.
The initial symptoms in all cases were a severe burning sensation with the blurring of vision. Visual acuity reduced from 20/60 to counting fingers.
Clinical findings varied from kerato-conjunctivitis, mild to severe corneal edema, epithelial defects, anterior uveitis, and secondary elevated intraocular pressure.
All symptoms and signs had resolved by 10-14 days with active supportive medication. People who handle Euphorbia plants should wear eye protection.
It is always advisable to ask the patient to bring a sample of the plant for identification.
Why Grow Euphorbia?
- Deer resistant
- Drought and heat tolerant
- Long blooming
- Low maintenance
How to prune Euphorbia
Some Euphorbias are short-lived and should be divided or propagated every two to three years, either in early fall or spring. Many benefit from being cut back hard, at least by one-third, after flowering is finished.
This keeps any free-seeders from gaining the upper hand and encourages a flush of new fresh foliage.
Trim back any damaged stems in early spring to keep the plant tidy and healthy
Cut back euphorbia stems at the base immediately after bloom. Clip carefully, new shoots will likely be emerging that you want to keep intact
Wear gloves when handling euphorbias, and quickly wash off any milky sap that gets on your skin, as it’s a strong irritant. The sap also makes spurges poisonous, so be aware if you have children and pets,
Perennial euphorbias vary in hardiness, particularly as concerns their northern edges, so check individual entries for the plants covered here.
Some types are evergreen in southerly zones but are only root hardy farther north.
The non-succulent deciduous Euphorbia plants include some of the most familiar such as milkweed and the popular holiday plant, poinsettia. Most of the succulent euphorbias are not frost-tolerant.
There are a few evergreen species, like creeping wood spurge (Euphorbia antisphilitica), cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) and donkey-tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) that will survive down to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5, but most Euphorbia species fall into zones 6 through 9, with a few hardy only in zones 10 and 11.
Exposure: Sun or Shade?
Euphorbias, in general, are sun lovers, though some will tolerate partial shade. Those with deep-purple or reddish foliage will have more-intense coloring if planted in full sun.
A few types truly prefer at least dappled shade, while others can thrive in bright sun in the North but need part shade in the blinding light of the South. Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae is a popular choice that grows well in shade.
One of the main benefits of growing Euphobia is their drought tolerance, so good drainage is key, though a few, such as E. griffithii ‘Dixter’ and E. dulcis‘Chameleon’, do prefer more moisture than others.
For those types that tend to run and spread, fertile soils could encourage them to expand beyond their boundaries, so keeping things lean lends control.
But if you want your Euphorbia to cover further ground faster, the rich organic soil will help things grow.
Euphorbia Plant Varieties
Hardy spurges have become hugely popular in perennial borders across the continent and in Europe, their stout mounds of leafy stems, like so many oversize bottlebrushes, filling a shrubby role, though with predictable sizes and tidy forms.
Newer varieties have richly colored leaves and flower heads, in burgundy, copper, creamy-white striped, eggplant purple and icy blue-green.
The ones discussed here are the succulents like pencil cactus as well as some cacti with wicked-sharp spines.
The flowers are an unusual arrangement and one of the commonalities of the Euphorbia family. Most obvious in the flashy display of poinsettias, the showy parts are actually not flowers but modified leaves called bracts. The blooms are tiny and distinctly drab looking.
One benefit of having bracts is that the floral heads continue to be showy long after the flowers themselves have done their thing.
Another common factor among euphorbias is the milky sap that runs through their veins, which is poisonous and a skin irritant.
But what makes them toxic also makes them deer resistant is a big bonus. Add to that drought and heat tolerant, long blooming and low maintenance, and you’ve got an awesome perennial.