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EUPHORBIA lactea

Image of Euphorbia lactea

James H. Schutte

Family

Euphorbiaceae

Botanical Name

EUPHORBIA lactea

Plant Common Name

Candelabra Plant, Elkhorn

General Description

Hailing from the arid regions of India and Sri Lanka, Euphorbia lactea is a highly cultivated, cactus-like succulent that has become naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions across the globe. When grown in frost-free zones it reaches shrub or tree-sized proportions. Though nearly leafless, its spiny, evergreen stems look attractive all season long. As a landscape specimen, elkhorn offers tough, substantial beauty in addition to fast, relatively maintenance free growth. In zones with cold winters it is sold as a common houseplant.

The upright, densely branched stems of elkhorn have three to four angles and ivory streaks down the face of each indented side. When cut, they emit copious amounts of milky white latex, hence the specific name, lactea. The angles are edged with small pairs of spreading spines. When water is plentiful tiny leaves appear near the spines. Small, inconspicuous, yellow to yellowish green flowers also appear near spines throughout the year and are followed by equally small fruits that produce lots of viable seed.

Full to partial sun and sharply drained soil are essential for good health and performance. Elkhorn is resilient to high heat and drought. Container-grown specimens require high light and a potting medium formulated for cacti. Be sure not to overwater succulent euphorbs as this can lead to root and stem rot. Protective gloves should be worn when pruning this plant because its latex is a dangerous dermal irritant. Plants are propagated by cuttings or seed.

Elkhorn may be planted as a landscape or container specimen or lined up as a hedge in hot, arid, frost-free climates. There are a number of desirable cultivated varieties with color and stem mutations, such as the crested, silvery 'White Ghost.'

Despite its landscape functionality and ornamental appeal, care should be taken when planting Euphorbia lactea in tropical and subtropical areas because it has the capacity to become highly invasive and threaten ecosystems where introduced. To learn more visit the Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER) database: http://www.hear.org/Pier/species/euphorbia_lactea.htm

There are health concerns related to the latex emitted by this Euphorbia species. To learn more visit The Poisonous Plants of North Carolina database: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Euphola.htm

Characteristics

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    10 - 11

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2, 24

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    4'-25' / 1.2m - 7.6m (15)

  • Width

    4'-10' / 1.2m - 3.0m

  • Bloom Time

    Indeterminate

  • Native To

    Eastern Asia, India

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Yellow, Yellow Green

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green

  • Bark Color

    Green, Ivory

  • Bark Color Modifier

    Striped/Striated

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    Yes

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Evergreen

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Container, Foundation, Hedges, Houseplant, Mixed Border, Tropical

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    Yes

  • Invasive

    Yes

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes