Euphorbias are grown for their spring and summer flowers, handsome foliage colors, and often evergreen leaves. Euphorbias have “showy” flowers; euphorbia’s flowers are actually colorful petal-like bracts that surround the true flowers.
Euphorbias are a large genus of annuals, biennials, perennials, subshrubs, and trees. Some euphorbias look like succulents. The Euphorbia genus includes about 2,000 species. Among the best-known members of the genus are poinsettias (E. pulcherrima) and crown-of-thorns, the houseplant.
Many euphorbias can be used in beds and borders where their chartreuse foliage and yellow inflorescences are almost immediately recognizable. Others are often grown houseplants.
Special note: Euphorbia stems contain a milky sap that flows when the stems are cut or damaged; the sap can irritate skin. Dip the stems of cut Euphorbia flowers in boiling water to seal in the sap.
Get to Know Euphorbia
- Plant type: Shrub, perennials, annuals, succulents
- Growing zones and range: Zones 4 to 9 depending on the variety
- Hardiness: Protect Euphorbias from the winter cold
- Height and width: Many euphorbias mimic cacti and should be treated as such.
- Foliage: Leaves are variable and often short-lived.
- Flowers: True flowers are surrounded by showy bracts; in most species, the bracts are yellow-green; after the true flowers fade the bracts usually persist.
- Bloom time: Spring and summer
- Uses: Beds and borders
- Common name: Spurge
- Botanical name: Euphorbia
- Family name: Euphorbiaceae
Where to Plant Euphorbia
- Grow euphorbias in full sun or light shade.
- Euphorbias will grow in average, well-drained soil.
- Most euphorbias are drought tolerant once established.
- Herbaceous euphorbias are suitable for a rock garden, mixed shrub border, or woodland garden.
- Succulent species are suitable for dry gardens or tropical gardens.
When to Plant Euphorbia
- Set perennial euphorbia in the garden after the last frost in spring.
- Start annual euphorbias from seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in spring.
Planting and Spacing Euphorbia
- Spacing varies by variety.
How to Water and Feed Euphorbia
- Keep the soil evenly moist, but not wet.
- Fertilize euphorbia in spring with an all-purpose organic fertilizer.
Euphorbia Pests and Diseases
- Euphorbias are usually trouble free. A few may be susceptible to powdery mildew.
- Propagate perennial euphorbias by division, by cuttings from shoots that appear at the base of the plants in spring, and by tip cuttings take in summer.
- Annual euphorbia can be propagated by seed. Annual euphorbias self-sow.
Euphorbia Varieties to Grow
- Euphorbia amygdaloides: Perennial grows to 3 feet (.9m) tall; resemble E. characias but smaller; best in sun; dies back in winter; bright green flowers; cultivar ‘Purpurea’ has purple shaded foliage.
- E. charaias: Evergreen perennial; upright, dome-shaped bush to 4 feet (1.2m) tall; narrow blue-green leaves; densely clustered flowers are chartreuse or lime green; E. c. wulfenii is a common form.
- E. cotinifolia: Caribbean copper plant: Evergreen shrub or tree; long-stalked leaves; loose flower clusters have small white bracts; likes heats; cultivar ‘Atro-purpurea’ has wine-red leaves.
- E. cyparissias: Perennial grows to 16 inches (40cm) tall from rhizomes; narrow 1.5-inch leaves are crowded on stem creating a feathery effect; clusters of chartreuse yellow flowers; good ground cover; may become dormant in winter.
- E. dulcis: Rhizomatous perennial grows to 12 inches (30cm) tall with dark green or bronze-green leaves; small clusters of greenish-yellow flowers in early summer.
- E. epithymoides: Perennial with rounded form; each stem ends in a cluster of tiny flowers surrounded by bright yellow bracts has the effect of a gold mound; spring bloomer; fall color is yellow to orange-red; goes dormant in winter; short-lived but reseeds.
- E. fulgens, scarlet plume: Evergreen shrub grows 3 to 4 feet (.9-1.2m) tall; drooping branches with narrow leaves; clusters of bright scarlet flowers in winter.
- E. griffithii: Perennial; erect stems to 3 feet (.9m) tall; narrow, medium-green leaves with clusters of brick red or orange bracts; spreads by creeping roots; does back in winter.
- E. heterophylla, Mexican fire plant: Annual grows to 3 feet (.9m) tall with bright green leaves resembling those of poinsettia; upper leaves blotched bright red and white; use in hot, dry borders.
- E. lathyris, gopher plant: Biennial said to repel gophers; stems have caustic juice; grows as a tall single stem to 5 feet (1.5m) with long narrow leaves and clusters of yellow flowers at the top.
- E. marginata, snow-on-the-mountain: Annuals with light green leaves stripped and margined with white; use in contrast to flowers in summer; plants can become rangy.
- E. martini: Evergreen perennial resembles E. characias with dense chartreuse, brown-centered flowers in late winter.
- E. milii (E. splendens), crown of thorns: Woody evergreen perennial subshrub; sparsely leafed; grows 3 to 4 feet (.9-1.2m) tall with long, sharp thorns; roundish thin light green leaves; bright red bracts.
- E. myrsinites: Evergreen perennial with floppy central crown rises to 12 inches (30cm); stiff blue-gray leaves; flattish clusters of chartreuse to yellow flower.
- E. obesa, baseball plant: Evergreen succulent; house plant; solid, fleshy, gray-green sphere with brownish stripes that resemble stitching on a baseball.
- E. palustris: Perennial grows to 3 feet (.9m) tall with medium green leaves; wide branching with a cluster of yellow flowers in spring.
- E. polychroma: cushion spurge: Compact perennial grows to 2 feet (.6) tall and wide; bright yellow-green flowers in early spring.
- E. pulcherrima, poinsettia: Semi-evergreen; showy petal-like bracts with true yellow flowers in centers; red bract form most familiar; can be adapted to the garden.
- E. rigida: Evergreen perennial or subshrub grows to 2 feet (.6) tall; fleshy gray-green narrow pointed leaves; domed flower clusters are chartreuse fading to pink.
- E. robbiae, Mrs. Robb’s bonnet: Evergreen perennial less than 12 inches (30cm) tall; closely set leathery dark green leaves; pale lime green flower clusters.
- E. seguierana niciciana: Evergreen perennial grows to18 inches (45cm) tall with blue-gray narrow leaves and chartreuse flowers in late winter.
- E. tirucalli, milkbush, pencilbush:Tree or large shrub to 30 feet tall, usually smaller; single or multi-trunk; light green, pencil-thick succulent branches with no sign of a leaf.