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Origin and Habitat: Brazil: Central parts of the state of Bahia, also in the state of Paraíba.
Habitat: It grows on exposed rocky hills and gravelly plains, within the vegetation type known as caatinga, a dry-deciduous xerophytic vegetation usually formed by spiny, entangled scrubs and mall trees, together with bromeliads (Encholirium sp.) and cacti. It can also be found as a rupicolous in the borders of rock outcrops surrounding caatinga. Euphorbia phorphorea often forms dense colonies.
- Euphorbia phosphorea Mart.
Description: Euphorbia phosphorea is an essentially aphyllous shrub or small tree with a short trunk that divides few centimeters above the ground into many strongly ribbed branches which grow in grand profusion, forming a huge crown. It attaining a height of up to 6 meters when growing amongst other vegetation growing around it, but usually staying with a average height of 2 meters. The plant share its general habit of growth with Euphorbia pteroneura.
Trunk: The plants form a small trunk 5 cm or more in diameter when growing amidst the caatinga, but they branch from the ground level when growing as a rupicolous.
Branches: Straight, flexible, elastic, jointed, upright or somewhat leaning back due to their weigh, 1-3 cm in diameter, of variable length, cylindrical-polygonal angled along with nodes c. 5 cm apart arranged in a counter-clockwise ascending helical pattern. Angles (ribs) 6-)7-8(-9) not very salient conferring a channelled appearance to the branch. These ribs are closely related to the nodes: from each node three ribs originate, and each node also receive three ribs originated from other nodes. The disposition of the ribs also follows a well defined pattern: two of the ribs originating in a given node will end in a same posterior node,while the third rib will end in a different posterior node. This pattern is the same found in Euphorbia sipolisii and also at times found in Euphorbia attastoma. The branches vary in colour from dark to yellowish-green and are more or less covered by a layer of wax confering to them a glaucous hue, and at times the cover of wax is so intense that the branch appear greyish. The very new growth is flushed with red, often in a intense wine colour. Once a branch stops growing it do not resume its growth, and new growth is obtained only by the production of more basal branches.
Leaves: Tiny, rudimentary only at the top of the new branch and soon deciduous. They are succulent, lanceolate, reddish in colour, 3-6 mm long and approx. 1 mm in diameter.
Flowers: Cyathia (specialised inflorescences) clustered at the end of the branches from the nodes, wine-red c. 8 mm in diameter with one pistillate flower flanked by 0 to 3 staminate flowers (rarely consisting only of staminate flowers). Nectar-glands 5(-6) with bifid appendages 1-3 mm long prolonged and curved inwards, dull red (rarely yellowish) resembling two small horns. All the cyathial parts is strongly verrucose. Each node of a branch can produce an aggregate of 1 to 10 cyathia. In the flowering season, the branches are often completely covered with flowers.
Fruit (capsules): Exserted, tripartite, connected to the cyathium by means of a short stalk. Surface of the fruit and fruit-stalk verrucose.
Notes: E. phosphorea derives its specific name because it is said to emit a peculiar phosphorescent light. According to Martins, the milky juice of E. phosphorea becomes luminous when removed from the plants and heated gently. Rizzini (1989) comments on the hypothesis by Rodrigues that this luminescence can be caused by some parasitic fungi perhaps found only in certain geographical localities where the fungus occur. Further research is needed to verify the occurrence and nature of the phosphorescence in this taxon and what is the cause (if any).
Bibliography: 1) David L. Lentz D. “Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the Pre-Columbian Americas” Columbia University Press, 13/Aug/2013
2) John Claudius Loudon “The Gardener's Magazine and Register of Rural & Domestic Improvement” Volume 3 Longman, Rees, Orome, Brown and Green, 1837
3) William Benjamin Carpenter “Principles of General and Comparative Physiology: Intended as an Introduction to the Study of Human Physiology, and as a Guide to the Philosophical Pursuit of Natural History” John Churchill, Princes Street, Soho., 1841
4) Hermann Jacobsen “Abromeitiella to Euphorbia” Blandford Press, 1960
5) Walter B. Mors, Carlos Toledo Rizzini, Nuno Alvares Pereira, Robert A. DeFilipps “Medicinal plants of Brazil” Reference Publications, 2000
6) Urs Eggli “Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Dicotyledons” Springer, 2002
7) Marlon Machado “Euphorbia phosphorea Mart: The largest growing succulent Brazilian Euphorbia species” The Brazilian Cacti Project: http://www.brcactaceae.org/
8) Cunha, Euclides da “Krieg im Sertao” Suhrkamp, Fr.1994
9) Eggli, U. “Xerophytic Euphorbias from Brazil.” The Euphorbia Journal 9:11 21, illus.1994 21, illus.
10) Machado, marlon “The caatinga vegetation of northeastern Brazil.” Cact. Succ. J. (US) 70(6):304-310 1998
11) Rizzini, C.T. “Cactiform Species of Euphorbia from Brazil (Euphorbiaceae).” Rev. Brasil. Biol. 49 (4): 979-997, 14 figs. 1989
Cultivation and Propagation: It is an easy species to grow that is suited for any well drained soil in full sun. But young plant are happy growing indoors, where they can easily reach the ceiling. It is a moderately fast grower, and will quickly become large landscape masterpieces in just 3-5 years. It is a relatively long lived plant and once established, it will be content in its position and with its soil for years.
Soil: 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.
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.
Frost tolerance: Native to Bazil. Said to be sensitive to frosts, 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.
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 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: All parts of Euphorbia ooze a milky sap when damaged or cut. Contact with this sap may cause dermatitis in some people, and in the eyes the sap can cause temporary blindness which may last for several days.
Uses: This plant is extremely hardy and waterwise, it is suitable for containers, or rockeries.
Traditional uses: In Brazil the latex is applied locally to remove warts and check malignant ulcers from spreading.
Propagation: It is easily propagated from seed or stem cuttin. Seeds can only be harvested when the capsule is light brown in colour. Due to the explosive nature of the seeds, one should place cottonwool over the seed capsules to stop them being blasted into the surrounding area. The soft cottonwool will effectively trap any seeds. The seed will loose viability in storage, and may not be viable the following year, so the seed should be planted as soon after harvesting as possible. 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. 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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