Euphorbia tithymaloides: Devil’s-backbone

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Common name: Devil’s-backbone, Zigzag plant, Redbird flower, Redbird cactus, Jewbush, Padus-leaved clipper plant, Buck-thorn, Christmas candle, Fiddle flower, Ipecacuahana, Jacob’s ladder, Milk-hedge, Japanese poinsettia, Jew’s slipper, Myrtle-leaved spurge, Red slipper spurge, Slipper flower, Slipper plant, Slipper spurge, Cimora misha, Timora misha

Devil’s backbone plants grow as short shrubs with erect green stems that have a zig-zag shape to them, giving the plant its name Zigzag plant. The plant belongs to the spurge family with succulent stems and leaves that produce a white sap.

They can grow to a height of 2 meters with a sturdy green stem. Leaves are light green, hairless, smoothy, and sessile with no petiole attaching them to the stem. They are alternate with a sunken mid-vein and smooth margins.

These plants grow well in good sunlight with regular watering. Devil’s backbone plants prefer loose, well-drained, nutrient-rich soil, but they are quite sturdy growing in almost all soil and weather conditions.

Native to North and Central America, these plants are now commonly seen in gardens around the world, especially in tropical countries. During the spring season, the plant flowers with red bird-like flowers that point outwards from the stem. Once fertilized, the plant also produces small seedpods.

All parts of the plant are toxic containing chemicals that are carcinogenic. They can cause irritation and inflammation to the skin and also to the mucosal tissue of the mouth, nose, and eyes. So it is good to wear gloves while handling this plant, especially while cutting or trimming it.

Devil’s backbone plants are closely related to other garden plants like Euphorbia tirucalli or Pencil cactus and Euphorbia milii: Crown of thorns.

In spite of its toxicity, the plant has some medicinal uses and is used in the treatment of mouth ulcers, laryngitis, asthma, stomach disorders, ear pain, ringworm, toothache, warts, and even diabetes. As with all plants, no part of it should be consumed or used for treatment without expert medical advice.

Devil’s backbone plants are grown as ornamental plants, though they can also be used for reforestation of wastelands since these plants are tolerant of drought and poor soil conditions.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.