How to grow Know your: Euphorbia

Know your: Euphorbia

The members of this plant family are loved for as much for their madly attention-seeking forms, textures and colours, as for their ability to thrive in tough spots.

One warning – that milky sap is an irritant, so wear gloves when pruning.



Euphorbia pulcherrima

Identify: The most familiar euphorbia (especially at Christmas!) hails from Mexico, thrives in Australia and flowers mid-winter with a striking tiara of red bracts. Less familiar is the quieter white form.

Grow: Will grow to 3m so cut back to the ground after flowering to control size and avoid the ugly summer phase.


Euphorbia pulcherrima. Photo – Kwanbenz /


Rainbow spurge

Euphorbia characias

Identify: There are so many new spurges on the market: ‘Silver Swan’, ‘Redwing’, ‘Blackbird’, ‘Ascot Rainbow’ that I confess I made up the common name of rainbow spurge. All are colourful, hardy evergreen small shrubs for warm temperate to cool climates.

Grow: Drought-tolerant once established and frost hardy to -1 degrees C. Pruning is generally not required.


Euphorbia characias .

Crown of thorns

Euphorbia millii

Identify: Crown of Thorns offers pretty flowers with no pest and disease problems. The scalloped petals in fiery reds, pinks and oranges are clustered atop thorny thickets.

Grow: Best in a container with free-draining succulent/cactus mix. Perfect in sunny spots that are too hot for other flowers. Wear thick gloves when repotting!


Euphorbia millii . Photo – WasanSpring /


Mediterranean spurge

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii hybrids

Identify: The lime leaves made a brilliant contrast to pride of Madeira (Echium fatuosum) and both love the same dry, hot Mediterranean conditions.

Grow: This is a shrubby filler to 1m+. Prune after flowering to refresh growth from the base. Propagate by division in early spring or take basal cuttings in spring/summer. Dip cut surfaces in charcoal or lukewarm water to prevent bleeding.


Euphorbia wulfenii . Photo – Robin Powell



Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Rosea’

Identify: Also called red pencil tree, this is a striking succulent shrub of pencil-thin stems that will form a dense thicket. The red-gold colour is best in winter and fades to yellow in the summer. Colours best in full sun.

Grow: The species is native to a wide range from Madagascar to and India, so is drought and cold hardy. Great in pots.


Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Rosea’


African milk tree

Euphorbia trigona

Identify: The fringed pillars of this beauty are a stunning low-maintenance living sculpture.

Grow: Water through the growing season when the soil surface feels dry to the touch, allowing the mix to dry out completely between waterings. Repot in summer, wearing heavy gloves. Won’t tolerate freezing.


Euphorbia trigona . Photo – Fruzsi-Gergo /


Diamond Frost

Euphorbia leucocephala ‘Diamond Frost’

Identify: Delicate clouds of tiny white flowers just keep on coming, gently mixing with other floaty companions, including butterfly bush (Gaura), salvias and penstemons. It grows to a 50cm round cushion.

Grow: It’s hard to go wrong with this one as it thrives in heat, handles drought, and in unbothered by pests and diseases. Prune to shape if necessary in the warmer months.


Euphorbia leucocephala ‘Diamond Frost’. Photo – somyot pattana /


Creeping spurge

Euphorbia myrsinites

Identify: A blue-leafed evergreen groundcover with trailing stems of spiralling leaves and clusters of chartreuse-yellow flowers through the spring months.

Grow: This will grow in most any sunny area, but does particularly well in hot, dry sites with poor soil. Looks terrific in a rock garden or rock wall. Also worth trying in tubs or mixed containers.


Euphorbia myrsinites. Photo – Elenarts /



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Author: Linda Ross