Euphorbia milii: Crown of thorns

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Common name: Crown of thorns, Christ plant, Christ thorn

Euphorbia plants were a rage in gardens some time back, until news about its toxicity started circulating. And then it fell out of favor with gardeners very quickly. It’s no more toxic than any other garden plant with milky sap like Adeniums, Plumeria or Allamanda.

Euphorbia plants have erect stems that grow to a height of about 2 meters. The stem has 5-7 sides with sharp 1 inch, grey-colored thorns that cover the stem densely. It is because of these thorns, that the plant is called Crown of thorns, since the stem resembles the crown worn on Jesus’ head before crucifixion.

Leaves are sparse in older plants, because the leaves present in younger plants fall off when they mature. Tall plants usually have a scraggly appearance with very few leaves, and flowers only at the top. The flowers are small, yellow or red, with bright red, pink or white bracts around them. The showy, big part is actually not the flower. They are bracts or modified leaves.

Euphorbia plants, for all their thorny looks, is not very hardy. Over-watering and low temperature can affect the plant adversely. It is a succulent plant, and overwatering will lead to stem and root rot. These plants love the sun, and are not recommended as indoor plants.

There are many hybrids of Euphorbia cultivated in various countries; having red, pink, white, cream, yellow, and even double-colored flowers. Some of these hybrids are hardy and tolerant of extreme weather conditions.

Popular hybrids are Short and Sweet, Somona, Jingle bells, New year, Pink Christmas and Mini-bell. The milky sap is quite toxic and can cause severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.

Contact with skin or eyes can also causes irritation and itching. So it’s always advisable to use gloves while tending to Euphorbia milii plants.

Propagation is from stem cuttings, which root well in normal soil that’s not wet. Since older plants have an unruly appearance, it is good to get small plants rooted and ready, by the time the parent plants mature.

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