Euphorbia tirucalli: Pencil cactus

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Common name: Pencil cactus, Pencil tree, Pencil plant, Indian tree spurge, Naked lady, Milk bush, Milk hedge, African milkbush, Pencil Euphorbia, Rubber Hedge Euphorbia, Tirucalli rubber, Aveloz

The name says it all, Pencil cactus is a cactus-like succulent with dark green, cylindrical, fleshy stems the size and shape of pencils. Pencil cactus trees could grow to a height of up to 7 meters, but normal houseplants only grow 2-4 meters.

The stem is succulent and green when they are young, but turns woody and brown when they become older. Tender stems at the very tips are light green in color and produce small rudimentary leaves that are 1-2 centimeter long, that fall away very soon. Pencil cactus plants also produce bunches of small flowers, with pink or yellow showy bracts that hide the actual flowers inside.

The plant has a milky white sap that oozes out when the stem is broken or cut. This sap is toxic and can cause temporary blindness in humans. It can also cause skin allergies and inflamed mucosal tissue.

Ingestion can cause swelling, redness, burning of mouth, lips, tongue, and throat; as well as nausea and vomiting. So it is advisable to use gloves while handling the plant. Do not keep the plant where children or pets have access to it. Minor skin irritations can be treated at home, but poisoning by ingestion needs medical attention.

Pencil cactus plants are grown as ornamental plants in gardens because of their unique foliage. But these plants also have some medicinal uses, and is used in the treatment of warts, cough, asthma, ear pain, tooth pain, headache, rheumatism, neuralgia, stomach ailments, constipation, worms, asthma, whooping cough, jaundice, gonorrhea, dropsy, leprosy, gall bladder stones, and fractures.

Though it’s toxic, young twigs are sometimes roasted and chewed to relieve sore throat. Wood is used to make toys, rafters, and veneers. The plant also yields a kind of oil that used in the paint and cloth industry.

Pencil cactus plants are good hedge plants since trespassers and animals are usually don’t prefer the sap that can fall on them if they break the stem. These plants are very sturdy and can grow in poor soil, drought, pollution, and salinity.

They need very little maintenance in terms of watering or fertilization. They grow very quickly, filling an average-sized pot in no time. Pencil cactus plants can also be grown as indoor plants provided they are kept near sunny windows. Being succulents, there is more danger from overwatering them than underwatering them. So, always check the soil and make sure it’s dry before watering the plant.

Propagation is from stem cuttings.