EUPHORBIA: how to grow successfully

This is an enormous genus, of at least 1.000 species, and they vary greatly and include trees, shrubs, succulents, annuals and perennials. Their appearance also varies, but many have a succulent nature, and all exude a whitish latex if cut. In spite of the size of the genus, only a few are important houseplants. two in particular.

Some of the lesser-known succulent species sometimes make an appearance as window-sill plants. The best known for the home are /•,’. pukherrima (poin-settia) and E. milii (crown of thorns). They are totally different in appearance and in their requirements. The poinset-tia. native to Mexico, is an extremely popular Christmas gift plant. The true flowers are insigniiicant, but the extremely showy leaf-like bracts, particularly when coloured bright red, make a dazzling display for the festive period. There are also pink and cream cultivars. These plants are specially produced by nurseries, being given treatment with artificial light to extend the normal day length and delay their development -which would otherwise be earlier – and dwarfed with chemicals to make them compact. For this reason, it is usually a waste of time to try saving the plants. Moreover, they need congenial warmth. and for most of the year will look far from decorative, even if saved. To keep bought plants in good condition for as long as possible, place them in a room of moderate temperature where

there are no extreme changes, and preferably with other houseplants so that they benefit from a humid microclimate. Shade them from direct winter sun. and keep them moist. In good conditions, the plants should remain attractive for several weeks. They then turn yellow and the leaves fall. The crown of thorns is a long-lived and permanent houseplant. and is sometimes listed as li. splcndi’iis, now thought to be a form with bright red flowers. Another form. B. milii tananarevae, has yellow flowers. These make neat. shrubby plants with roundish succulent leaves and long spines growing from the stems, forming a handsome plant that will enhance any home. The showy part of the flower is a pair of bracts, and these may appear erratically throughout the year, but mostly in winter. Minimum temperature for this species from Madagascar is about 13 deg C (55 deg F). It enjoys an atmosphere drier than most houseplants prefer, but should be given good light and an airy position.

It can be watered freely from spring to late summer, but kept only slightly moist the rest of the time. Too much water will often cause the leaves to fall, usually after turning yellow. If this happens allow the plant to become almost dry and remain so for about two months. After this rest, new buds and leaves may begin to form, and watering can then be resumed, though cautiously at first. The milky juice from this plant is poisonous. The plant is rarely affected by pests or diseases.

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