Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Plants with a tropical look continue to be popular. These lush plants add an exotic look to the indoor or outdoor landscape. When it comes to choosing tropicals, you won’t go wrong if you choose the African milk-bush. This plant is in a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, making it a relative of the poinsettia. This is also known as the cathedral cactus.
Originally native to tropical areas of West Africa, such as Gabon, this reliable plant is often grown as a house plant. It is an upright, cactus-like succulent. In sub-tropical and tropical areas, it is also grown as an outdoor landscape plant.
Like some other Euphorbias, this plant with multiple arms assumes the shape of a candelabra. It has attractive, dark green stems decorated with lighter stripes of white and pale green. In many respects, the stems of the African milk-tree resemble those of the candelabra cactus and the candelabra tree. All of these have spiny, angled stems that tend to have wavy edges. Its arms tend to be rather erect.
The leaves of the African milk-tree are similar to that of related Euphorbias. These tend to appear on the new growth. With this species, they tend to be deciduous. With tiny, reddish spines, the foliage is oval in shape.
As you can tell from common names like candelabra cactus and cathedral cactus, the African milk-bush bears a remote resemblance to cactus. It has a medium growth rate. Typically under good growing conditions this plant will reach about eight feet tall or so with a spread of around a foot or so. When grown outdoors, its ultimate size may not be a factor. However, there have been occasions when it has outgrown its living space indoors. If that happens,
the best thing to do is to take cuttings and start over. Cuttings of the stems
are very easy to root.
As an indoor plant the African milk-tree is often used in dish gardens.
When used as an outdoor landscape species, this species is recommended as a rock garden plant, shrub, and foliage plant. It lends a coarse texture to the landscape. In America, it is hardy only in zones 10b and 11. Being tropical, it prefers warm conditions with a minimum of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whether it is grown indoors or outdoors, African milk-tree prefers full sun, but will tolerate some partial shade.
So far as care is concerned, this is quite tolerant of drought. It needs minimal fertilizer. There is only one concern when it comes to the African milk tree, and that is the fact that the spines can be irritating. So keep them out of the way of children and pets.
According to popular folklore, it is supposed to be good luck to share this plant with your friends. So be generous.