Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
The shrubby African milk bushes are related to the Euphorbias. These plants are native to various areas of tropical Africa and the islands of the Indian Ocean.
While there is also a species of Euphorbia that is known as milk bush, these African milk bushes are a totally different group of plants, known as the Synadeniums.
When mature, these are very shrubby looking succulents. These plants were first introduced to the West in the 1860’s.
These species are wonderful for outdoor gardens in warm climates. In addition, they’re great for containers gardens, particularly hanging baskets. They make a good houseplant as well.
Fairly easy to grow, these plants need full sun. They require a quick draining soil. So add sand or grit to the potting soil if you’re growing them in containers.
These plants will need watered throughout the summer months when they’re actively growing. During the winter when they’re resting, reduce the water. They require about the same kind of care as the tender succulent euphorbias.
The African milk bushes need a warm temperature, at least 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. These are easy to grow from cuttings. Allow the cuttings to dry out before placing them in the potting soil. These are also easy to grow from seeds.
Wear rubber gloves when taking the cuttings and when pruning the plants. The milky white sap for which the plant is named can irritate the skin. Avoid getting this in your eyes. All parts of these plants are considered poisonous if taken internally.
While many of the African milk bushes are shrubby, in some instances they look like mini-trees. These have very thick succulent branches. The alternate leaves are rather large and fleshy. The blossoms, which lack petals, open in the leaf axils
Several species are in cultivation. The red milk bush is one of the most African milk bushes. Native to East Africa, it can reach ten feet or so in height. The stems are usually red. This very showy plant has lovely, bright red blossoms throughout the year. The spatula shaped leaves are four inches long. These are greenish-gray, and are decorated with prominent veins.
There is also a variety of this species that has very purple coloring. This variety has stems and foliage that are deep purple when they’re grown in full sun. The attractive blossoms are yellowish-green.