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Accepted Scientific Name: Euphorbia aphylla Brouss. ex Willd.
Enum. Pl. (Willdenow) 501 1809. Willd.
Origin and Habitat: Euphorbia aphylla is locally endemic to the central Canary Islands of Tenerife, La Gomera and Gran Canaria and often grown in gardens and parks because of its unusual appearance.
Altitude range: 0-200 metres above sea level.
Habitat: It grows in the relatively arid coastal area on deep stony-clayey soils among sparse vegetation and lichen covered boulders. Plants are often found close to the sea shore, usually on the north-facing slopes that receive moist sea air. Such coastal areas are called aeroaline as they are related to the aerosol transported by the strong marine winds and are dominated by (slightly) halophytic communities. In the same area it is possible to find several endemic succulents and xerophyte plants such as: Ceropegia dichotoma, Linaria heterophylla, Argyranthemum coronopifolium, Lycium intricatum, Suaeda vera and Rubia fruticosa.
ENGLISH: Milk Hedge, Leafless Spurge, Candelabra Cactus
GERMAN (Deutsch): Blattlose Wolfsmilch
SPANISH (Español): Tolda, Tabaiba salvaje, Tabaiba parida
Description: Euphorbia aphylla is a small, evergreen, densely branched and succulent shrub 30-80(-250) cm tall. The the pencil-like shoots (apparently missing leaves) arise from a short trunk and branch further into whorls. Euphorbia aphylla looks very much like Sarcostemma viminale or Cynanchum compactum both with long, thin, leafless branches. The species name 'aphylla' comes from the Greek for 'without leaves'.
Stems: The trunk has very small and articulated branches, with opposite ramifications, which can be dichotomous or vertical. Branches arising from the crown are tapered cylindrical, about 6 mm in diameter at the base 4 to 25 cm long, but mostly about the length of a finger (rarely growing taller than 20 cm), fleshy, light greysh-green, glaucous-green or yellowish green. The trunk and older basal branches are thick, woody with a brown corky-bark.
Leaves: Tiny, scale-like ephemeral and quickly fall off, so the entire plant appears leafless.
Inflorescences: Almost sessile clustered at the ends of branches, with (not always) a central cyathium and two to four lateral yellowish cyathia. The bracts are as tiny as the leaves. Nectar glands 4-5 yellow, elliptical and touching.
Booming season: In culture, the plants bloom almost all year round, but mainly in spring and autumn.
Fruits: Very small reddish-brown.
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Sir William Jackson Hooker “Icones Plantarum; Or, Figures,: With Brief Descriptive Characters and Remarks, of New Or Rare Plants, Selected from the Author's Herbarium” Volume 2 Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman, 1837
2) James Cullen, Sabina G. Knees, H. Suzanne Cubey “The European Garden Flora Flowering Plants: A Manual for the Identification of Plants Cultivated in Europe, Both Out-of-Doors and Under Glass” Cambridge University Press, 11/ago/2011
3) Urs Eggli “Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Dicotyledons” Springer, 2002
4) HANSEN, A. & P. SUNDING "Flora of Macaronesia. Checklist of vascular plants." 4. revised edition. Sommerfeltia 17: [1-295] 1993
5) P.M.A. Broussonet, ex C.L. Willdenow: Enum. Pl. Hort. Reg. Berol. 1: 501, 1809
6) C.S. Walker, M. Thorburn “The Euphorbias of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands” The Euphorbia Journal, Vol. 4: 46-47, 1987
7) P. Lawant, R. Suntjens “Euphorbias of La Gomera, Canary Islands.” The Euphorbia Journal, Vol. 10: 36-37, 1996
8) B. Mies, M.S. Jiminez & D. Morales “Ecophysiology and distribution of the endemic leafless spurge Euphorbia aphylla and the introduced Euphorbia tirucalli (Euphorbiaceae, Euphorbia Sect. Tirucalli) in the Canary-Islands.” Plant Systematics and Evolution 202: 27-36, 1996
Cultivation and Propagation: Euphorbia aphylla is an easy species to grow suitable for rockeries or containers in full sun. But young plant are happy growing indoors. Give the plant an airy growing medium which mainly consists of non organic material such us clay, pumice, lava grit, and only a little peat or leaf-mould. Water regularly during the active growing season from March to September. No water should ever be allowed to stand around the roots. Keep almost completely dry in winter. It is a relatively fast growing and long lived plant and once established, it will be content in its position and with its soil for years.
Fertilization: Need a perfect fertilizer diet in summer. Use preferably a cacti and succulents fertilizer with high potassium content including all micro nutrients and trace elements or slow release fertilizer.
Exposure: This plant has an excellent heat tolerance, and need full sun to light shade exposures, but can tolerate shade. However shade grown plants will tend to produce fewer, and etiolated growth. The colour of this plant is much more marked if grown in full sun. But if it is possible to keep the growth of this species compact, with denser, shorter stems such plants can be outright attractive.
Watering: Water regularly during the active growing season. No water should ever be allowed to stand around the roots. Keep almost completely dry in winter. Care must be given in watering, keeping them warm and wet while growing, and cooler and dry when dormant.
Hardiness: Some cold tolerance, however it can be difficult to get it to look its best without a good amount of heat and sun and so it is only really suited to the tropics (USDA Zones 9-12). It can be grown outdoors in the summer months to benefit from direct exposure to light, and especially exposure to high summer temperatures. Protection in a warm greenhouse in the middle of the winter will greatly increase the survival rate.
Disease and pests: The aphid occasionally feeds on young stems. The plant are also attractive to mealy bugs.
Rot: Rot it is only a minor problem with euphorbias if the plants are watered and “aired” correctly. If they are not, fungicides won't help all that much. It is very unlikely to lose this plant from root rot from excessive water.
Manteinance: Re-pot every two-three years. It like quite small pots, repot in early spring. It can be pruned for shape and branching and trim off the dead 'arms'.
Known hazards: As mentioned above, all parts of the plant exude a milky latex when damaged. Contact with the latex should be avoided. This latex is toxic may cause dermatitis in some people, and particularly dangerous for the eyes and mucous membranes.
Propagation: The plant can be reproduced by seeds or cuttings. Use a well-drained sowing medium of sandy loam with very well-rotted compost, and preferably sieved river sand to cover the seed. The ideal size of the sand grains should be 1 mm. Germination usually occurs within about a week or two. Cuttings are relatively easy in a 1:1:1 mixture of pumice, vermiculite and potting soil, at c. 27°C. If you remove an offset, remember to let it dry for some days, letting the wound heal (cuttings planted too soon easily rot before they can grow roots). Lay it on the soil and insert the stem end partially into the substrate. Try to keep the cutting somewhat upright so that the roots are able to grow downward. It is better to wash the cut to remove the latex. The newly planted stems take a few weeks to establish, and then start growing. The best time to strike cuttings is spring.
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