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Origin and Habitat: Euphorbia gorgonis is a South African endemic found in the Eastern Cape Province in the hill between Sundays River and Zwartkops River; Uniondale, Port Elizabeth and Albany Div.; Grahamstown.
Habitat and origin: Its habitat is flat to hilly terrains rich in pebbles among which Euphorbia gorgonis grows almost flush with the ground and it is difficult to detect. The plants grow in full sun or are partially covered by small shrubs. Plants growing with E. gorgonis include Boophone disticha, Pachypodium bispinosum, Bergeranthus glenensis, Gasteria armstrongii, Freesia alba and Crassula tetragona subsp. acutifolia. The coastal climate is mild in both summer and winter. Average rainfall is 400–500 mm per year and occurs in summer and winter, but there is a tendency to winter dryness. The average annual daily maximum temperature is about 22°C and the average daily minimum about 12°C.
- Euphorbia gorgonis A.Berger
Euphorbia gorgonis A.Berger
Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 45(2): 230. 1910 [13 Dec 1910]
AFRIKAANS (Afrikaans): Melkbol, Slanggif, Vingerpol
Description: Euphorbia gorgonis is a spineless, small growing, species of the 'medusa head' type of euphorbia. It has a deep tap root that merge into a broad subglobose main stem (caudex), which bears a compact crown of short radiating branches in 3–5 series around a branchless flat or depressed central area. It is a choice species, much prized by collectors because of ts symmetrical form and neat habit. It is easily distinguished from its allied species because of its small size and dark red or brown glands (yellow or greenish-yellow in related species). This "Medusa" member of the Euphorbiaceae family was given this name by Alwin Berger in 1910.
Derivation of specific name: 'gorgonis' Latin, of the Gorgon; for the medusoid growth form. The name is an extension of the medusa myth. Medusa was one of the three Gorgon sisters. In an earlier version of the myth all three had snakelike hair and wings. When Perseus beheaded Medusa, the two remaining Gorgon sisters chased after him as he flew across Africa.
Stem: Main body or caudex of the plant globose or obconic, 5-10 cm accross, almost completely buried in the ground, spineless, with a crown of short radiating branches in 3–5 series around a branchless flat or depressed central area or disc 2-5-5 cm wide. The disc is covered with acute conical tubercles 1-5 mm prominent and as much in diameter, glabrous, dull green or more or less tinged with purplish. Branches 8-25 mm long or under cultivavation up to 5 (or more) cm long, 6-10 mm thick, cylindric or the younger globose, covered with small 5–6-angled conical acute tubercles 3-4 mm in diameter and 1-2 mm prominent, glabrous, green or tinged with purplish, not glaucous.
Leaves: Rudimentary, only present on the young growth and soon deciduous, 1-2 mm (or under cultivation up to 3 mm) long, 1-1.5 mm broad, lanceolate or elliptic, acute, glabrous.
Inflorescences: Peduncles 4-10 long, solitary in the axils of the tubercles of the disc and branches, erect, stout, bearing 1 cyathium and 3–5 minute scale-like ciliate bracts, glabrous. Cyathia 3-5.5 mm in diameter cup-shaped, glabrous, with 5 glands of a rich dark purple-brown and 5 short broadly rounded or transversely oblong dull purplish white-ciliate lobes. Nectar-glands 1.5-2.5 mm in diameter, sub-circular, margin notched or with 3–7 small irregular teeth scattered along it, crimson or brownish crimson. Styles united into a column about 1 mm long, with spreading broadly cuneate-obcordate or 2-lobed arms 1/3– 2/3 lin. long, channelled down their face, green.
Fruits (capsules): Sessile or subsessile, 4 mm in diameter, subglobose, slightly 3-grooved, thinly sprinkled with hairs when young, sometimes nearly or quite glabrous when ripe.
Seeds: 2.5 mm long, ovoid, acute at one end, minutely tuberculate, except along a narrow space down the ventral side, blackish-grey.
Similar species. Closely related is Euphorbia woodii, the same group there are also Euphorbia caput-medusae and Euphorbia pugniformis.
Subspecies, varieties, forms and cultivars of plants belonging to the Euphorbia gorgonis group
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) N. E. Bbrown, J. Hutchinson and D. Prain “Flora Capensis”, Vol 5, 1925
2) Alain Campbell White, Robert Allen Dyer, Boyd L. Sloane “The succelent Euphorbisae (southern Africa)” Abbey garden press, 1941
3) Bruyns, P.V. 2012. "Nomenclature and typification of southern African species of Euphorbia." Bothalia 42(2):217-245.
4) Archer, R.H. & Victor, J.E. 2005. Euphorbia procumbens Mill. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2015.1. Accessed on 2016/01/15
5) Graham Charles “Cacti and Succulents: An illustrated guide to the plants and their cultivation” Crowood, 30 April 2014
6) Succulent Flora of Southern Africa
7) Doreen Court “Succulent Flora of Southern Africa” CRC Press, 01 June 2000
8) Hermann Jacobsen “Abromeitiella to Euphorbia” Blandford Press, 1960
9) Werner Rauh "The Wonderful World of Succulents: Cultivation and Description of Selected Succulent Plants Other Than Cacti" Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984
10) Tom Glavich - San Gabriel Valley Cactus and Succulent Society “Succulent of the Month August 2003 - Medusoid Euphorbia” July 2003 <http://www.sgvcss.com/communique/sotm_2003_08.pdf> web 15 January 2016
11) Eggli, U., ed. “Illustrated handbook of succulent plants: Dicotyledons”. 2002
12) Urs Eggli, Leonard E. Newton “Etymological Dictionary of Succulent Plant Names” Springer Science & Business Media, 29 June 2013
13) “Gasteria armstrongii Schönland” in: Plantzafrica <http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantefg/gasteriaarm.htm> Ernst van Jaarsveld Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden May 2011. web 16 January. 2016
15) Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. 1981. “Botanical exploration of southern Africa”. Balkema, Cape Town.
16) Mucina, L. & Rutherford, M.C. (eds) 2006. “The vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.” Strelitzia 19. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
Cultivation and Propagation: Euphorbia gorgonis is an easy species to grow that is suited for any well drained soil in full sun. It is cultivated as an ornamental, and is a particular favourite of succulent plant enthusiasts. Even if the branches in cultivated specimens may be 2-3 times as long as those found on South African specimens this species maintains its habit more compact than in related species.
Growing rate: It is a relatively slow growing and long lived plant and once established, it will be content in its position and with its soil for years.
Soil and pots: It likes deep pot with generous drain holes to accommodate its tap root, needs a very airy potting medium very permeable to water which mainly consists of non organic material such us clay, pumice, lava grit, expanded slate and only a little peat or leaf-mould. Re-pot every two 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: It can tolerate moderate shade, and a plant that has been growing in shade should be slowly hardened off before placing it in full sun as the plant will be severely scorched if moved too suddenly from shade into sun.
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. However this spurge will tolerate dryness and can even thrives in poor, dry soils, but do better when grown in nutrient-rich soils with regular watering.
Aerosol salt tolerance: It is salt tolerant.
Hardiness: Some cold tolerance. This spurge has tolerated temperatures down to –6ºC and even a little snow. However it can be difficult to get it to look its best without a good amount of heat and sun (USDA Zones 8-11)
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.
Known hazards: As with all other Euphorbias when a plant get damaged it exudes a thick white milky sap known as latex. This latex is poisonous, and may irritate skin. Pay extreme attention not to get any in your eyes or mouth. Cultivated plants must be handled carefully.
Propagation: The plant can be reproduced by seeds or cuttings If you take a cutting from this plant, you will get a strange bunch of sideways 'fingers' that will not come true to the shape of the parent. In this case, wait for seed. 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.
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