Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
The euphorbias are a very interesting group of plants. These are named for Euphorbus, who was the physician of King Juba of Mauritania, also called Numidia.
This group has over 2000 different species. Among these are annuals and biennials as well as shrubs and trees. In addition to the succulent shrubby and tree-like euphorbias, there are a number of perennial species that are of interest to cacti and succulent lovers. The euphorbias are known for their appealing growth habits and shapes as well as their blooms.
The euphorbias can vary greatly in appearance. However, all of them have a few things in common. First, there’s the matter of the blossoms. The showy colorful part of the blooms is the petal-like bracts. The true flowers are actually small and very inconspicuous. The color of the bracts can vary in color. Though they’re often yellow or red, they can also be green or white. The bracts surround the small true flowers.
The euphorbias have one other characteristic in common. That is the milky acrid latex. This can burn, and is considered poisonous. It shouldn’t be allowed to come into contact with wounds. Don’t allow it to get in your eyes either. This can also be poisonous if taken internally.
Some of the euphorbias are commonly grown as perennials. These tend to be native to the temperate zones, particularly in the Old World. Some of these perennials have now become naturalized in the New World.
The succulent euphorbias originated mostly in warmer areas, especially Africa. They are commonly found in South and West Africa.
The euphorbias vary widely in their growth habits. The herbaceous ones differ greatly from the succulent ones. The perennials often form clumps.
The succulent euphorbias take different shapes. Some of the tree-like ones have many candelabra-like shoots. One of the unusual ones is the Medusa’s head. Freely branching, this has many blue-green branches arising from the base. The stems are covered with wart-like protuberances.
Some of the succulent species resemble cacti. An example is the crown of thorns. This is one of the spiny euphorbias. The crown of thorns is one of the most popular succulent euphorbias. Originally native to Madagascar, this is grown mostly as a conservatory or house plant. It is only winter hardy to zone eleven.
As is the case with the crown of thorns, the leaves on the succulent euphorbias tend to be rather short lived.
Euphorbia obesa is one of the most unusual euphorbias. When young, it looks like a plaid hat. This features many little ribs that resemble seams running from the tip down to the base of the plant. As it becomes older, it assumes a columnar cactus-like appearance.