Plant Common Name
African Milk Tree
This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.
There are more than 2,000 species which make up the large, diverse genus Euphorbia. Commonly known as spurges, they have a broad distribution. Most species naturally exist across the drier regions of the tropics worldwide, but quite a few also inhabit cooler, temperate regions. Some of the most fantastic and diverse Euphorbia are African, particularly succulent types. The famous botanist Carolus Linnaeus named Euphorbia to honor Euphorbus, a Greek physician to King Juba II of Numibia known to have used Euphorbia medicinally.
Euphorbias are very diverse in appearance and habitat. Some are rainforest species while others favor deserts. They can be tiny weeds, great shrubby trees or cactus-like. Some are annuals, white others are deciduous or evergreen perennials. The key characteristics that unify them are their unique flowers and white milky latex that’s often toxic. To learn more about the possible hazards associated with Euphorbia latex see The Poisonous Plants of Georgia Website: http://www.plantbio.uga.edu/PPG/Plant%20Summary%20Pages/euphorbia_spp.htm.
Euphorbia stems may be thin or thick, succulent or woody, rounded or winged, and the leaves are evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous, alternate or opposite. Those of cactus-like species are either reduced, absent or modified into glands or spines. Bloom time is species dependent. The plants bear separate male and female flowers in cup-like structures called cyathia. These may occur singly or in clusters. Petal-like, showy bracts often accompany the small blooms. These bracts can be large and colorful, such as those of poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). The fruit is a two or three parted capsule that splits open to expel the seeds.
Lots of species are ornamental. A hardy favorite is the bushy, eastern European sweet spurge (Euphorbia dulcis), with its green or burgundy foliage and flowers. The cactus-like Madagascar native, crown-of-thorns ( Euphorbia milii), is a popular house plant and is favored as a landscape plant in tropical and subtropical climates. The Mediterranean cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) is tough, easy to grow and has showy yellow-green flowers early in the season. Some are also well-known field weeds, such as the ubiquitous prostrate spurge (Euphorbia maculata
Cultural requirements vary but most Euphorbia prefer full to partial sun and well-drained soil. Landscape and garden use is species dependent.