The Garden Plant
Euphorbia tirucalli

Euphorbia tirucalli Plant (Pencil Cactus) Care

Euphorbia tirucalli Plant (otherwise known as red pencil tree, pencil cactus, stick on fire plant, milk bush, Avelon or only as Euphorbia).

I personally, like this plant, looks great in the landscape and if treated properly, will grow consistently for years. It is also the only plant in my 25 years of working in the landscape industry that sent me to the hospital.

I was planting a Euphorbia bush in a landscape on Miami Beach, and I got the milk from the plant in both of my eyes. Not good. I eventually recovered, but at the time there was a real concern.

This plant is a flowering plant that belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family that is found mostly in dry, tropical areas, but best in Zones 10-12.

Known in America as Pencil Cactus they are grown heavily in Africa, some parts of America and parts of India. Other countries around the world grow Euphorbia- including those in temperate regions, and some in nurseries for in home decoration.

Generally, there are two broad types of this plant: the more prominent (sometimes older trees) and the smaller shrubs which characteristically do not grow more than 10 meters.

Pencil Cactus Stems and Stalks

When it is yet a young shrub, it is greenish, looks fresh and has a thin, flexible stem of about 0.5 centimeters. The older plants, however, have a grayish, rougher look and tend to have thicker, tougher stems of about 2cm.

They taste unpleasant (more like acidic) and have very faint smells. Older stems decline in their photosynthetic abilities.

The inside of Euphorbia are milkish in color, rigid and are combustible, which means they are great options for usage as coal or fire stokes.

Height and Width of typical Euphorbia

Small pencil cactus plants or shrubs tend to grow as high as 5 feet while the bigger trees can grow as tall as 20 to 25 feet and as wide as 9.5 feet.

However, this sometimes depends on the environment in which it is grown. Its roots typically go down as far as 2 feet.

Does a Pencil Cactus have Leaves?

Euphorbia Tirucalli has very few leaves, which can only be found on the plant when it is still very young.

The leaves are small and oblong shaped with lengths of about 1cm to 3cm and widths of 1.5cm to 2cm. They have fine, pointed tips and can only be found at the end of the younger plants.

They shed their leaves rapidly and very early such that the older trees are usually almost completely leafless.

Does a Euphorbia tirucalli bare Fruit?

Their fruits are glabrescent: they are initially hairy but tend to shed off their hair with time. They are covered in capsules (which are divided into three parts) and are located on top of a single pedicel.

The capsules tend to split or open up after some time allowing the fruits to scatter around.

Pencil Cactus
Pencil Cactus in my old home.

Do Pencil Cactus’ Flower?

The flowers are usually numerous, brightly colored, very small and are arranged sometimes in linear or alternate patterns or scattered out at the tips of branches.

They are mostly self-pollinated: while the plants produce male flowers, they also contain female bracts covered up by bracteoles. They are also pollinated by insects such as butterflies and bees.

What do Euphorbia Seeds look like?

Seeds are oval in shape with an average dimension of 3mm by 3mm. They are soft, spotted and have a thin dark-colored line running vertically across the sides.

The plant-tree has many branches that further grow out into smaller, thinner stubs, giving it a dense and bushy look.

The branches are longitudinal and are usually curved upwards. They can be as thick as 8mm and are mostly wet (especially in younger plants).

Taxonomy of the Euphorbia tirucalli:

Below is the scientific classification of Euphorbia tirucalli:
Eukaryota: kingdom Plantae
Sub-kingdom: Tracheobionta
Division: Magnoliophyta
Super-division: Spermatophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Subclass: Rosidae
Order: Malpighiales
Genus: Euphorbia
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Species: tirucalli.

Is a Pencil Cactus Toxic?

YES- When handling Euphoria Tirucalli plants, you should wear protective gloves, face protection if possible overalls.

This is because of its possible (almost predictable) effects on the skin: it emits a sticky, milky fluid that is highly skin-irritant and can cause an itchy or burning sensation.

For sensitive parts of the body such as the mouth, lips, and tongue, it results in extreme burns to the skin upon contact.

It is also believed that it contains chemical substances which can seriously damage eyesight and possibly lead to blindness if allowed to come in contact with the eyes.

Experts advise that it is safer to avoid the ingestion of the plant until it is expertly processed.

What are the Uses of the Euphorbia tirucalli?

Euphorbia plants are particularly profitable to a man from a traditional healing background or even modern medicine, different parts of the euphorbia plant are used in different parts of the world for a variety of medicinal purposes.

Here are some Medicinal uses for the Euphorbia tirucali Plant:

The trees are used for aesthetics within homes, personal offices, and corporate workspaces. It is also sometimes planted in home lawns as well as market gardens for decorative display and sometimes to cast a shadowy effect on driveways and walkways.

They are also commercialized both in their natural state for planting and in their processed forms.

Agronomists and green-life enthusiasts find the plant useful in that it can be used to combat deforestation and drought.

In traditional societies within Africa, the plant is used as partitions and borders between compounds. They are also used sometimes used as hedges for small spaces like farms.

The entire plant is used in India and Brazil and some parts of Asia in the treatment of cancers, tumors, liver disorders, leprosy, and leukorrhea.

The wood can be used as a veneer for other furniture materials. It can also be processed into gun powder. For women, it is used as a cure for limb semi-paralysis and paralysis at pregnancy and post-parturition stages.

When processed, the latex can be used as a pesticide. It is useful in the deterrent of bacteria, mosquitoes, aphids, mollusks, and many other plant and animal pests.

According to scientific reports, the latex of Euphorbia Triculli contains hydrocarbons which are highly combustible (yields octane petrol when burnt). It can also be used to produce crude oil, a convenient and equally effective alternative for fossil petrol.

Not only is it cheaper to buy, but it is also relatively easier to process from its raw state. Of course, its wood is equally effective as fuel and usable for both home and industrial purposes.

The latex of the plant is also a great source of rubber and is useful in industrial production rubber materials.


Brent Richard Dixon

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