Tag Archives: Euphorbia ceratocarpa

counting euphorbias

Tis the season to celebrate euphorbias, since many of us will be living with or gifting/regifting one of its tribe over the next couple weeks, the poinsettia. Call me scrooge, but I’d much rather think about the ones planted in my garden than the holiday favorite with the flaming red bracts. Since first digging the garden 26 years ago, there’s always been at least a couple euphorbias around, and that will certainly be true again for 2015. I’m referring to the herbaceous and shrubby kinds, not the succulents, whose numbers are legion. This genus is ginormous, the largest genera of flowering plants in the plant kingdom, named after Euphorbus, physician to the Mauretanian King Juba II (first century B.C.), whose exploitation of its medicinal properties earned him a place in botanical nomenclature. But the white sap is notoriously toxic and the stinging enemy to the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth, so I can’t imagine how and in what form Dr. Euphorbus delivered the medicine. Even getting the sap on the skin causes a strong reaction in some people, though I seem to have the hide of a rhino and haven’t had a problem so far. I’ve grown many of the different herbaceous kinds over the years, which generally tend to be short-lived for me. Many will seed around, whether lightly or alarmingly, and species do occasionally cross, like the famous Euphorbia x martinii, a naturally occurring hybrid between characias and amygdaloides. The euphorbias are standouts here in winter and spring for a sunny, dryish garden, and I’ve long been faithfully trying out any new kinds that come my way.

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First the euphorbs returning for 2015. There’s tree-like Euphorbia lambii fattening up after the recent rain, losing its scrawny summer looks.
This euphorbia seeds around like nobody’s business. But it’s tall, incredibly tough and tolerant of a dry summer, so it gets a pass.
Hardy down to 25 to 30 degrees.

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By February it will look more like this (February 2013)

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In bloom April 2013, illustrating a euphorbia’s attractions: smooth, blue-green leaves arranged in whorls with a shaggy chartreuse inflorescence

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Also fattening up is a young E. atropurpurea. After a wobbly first year, it’s exciting to see it settling in and appearing to choose life. From Tenerife, Canary Islands.

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Here it is at the Huntington Botanical Garden, flaunting its atypically fabulous wine-colored bracts.
I had never heard of such a euphorbia before and stood slack-jawed before it when first stumbling across this beauty.

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There was much gaping and sputtering, and then a frenzied search for my son Mitch, who was photographing barrel cactus elsewhere in the garden (see here).
I dragged him back by the sleeve to take this photo. And then I chased this euphorbia across a summer of plant shows, ultimately finding a source at Annie’s Annuals. Bless you, Annie!

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Also returning is Euphorbia rigida, just not this specific plant, which declined and withered away. A couple pieces were salvaged.
It also reseeds, but nowhere at the level of E. lambii. When I find these seedlings, they’re carefully potted up. Photo from February 2014

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spring 2012. So this plant lived at least three to four years. The clay here might have something to do with the shortened lifespan.

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Euphorbia mauritanica in the front garden, where the sun/shade shifts around quite a bit throughout the year.
These are probably leggier than they should be, but I’m hoping they’re in shape for a good bloom this spring.

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Here’s the ideal Euphorbia mauritanica, included in a design by Dustin Gimbel.

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My straggly Euphorbia ceratocarpa, appearing to have barely survived a recent move to clear out the compost area.

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Old photo from 2009 when the smoke tree ‘Grace’ ruled the garden and I continually wore that green robe through the winter.
Euphorbia ceratocarpa is on the left against the fence. Golden blur on the right was a duranta.

Unfortunately, this is the best photo I have to illustrate why I’ve carefully nurtured this one ratty-looking plant from a single cutting for the many years after the mother plant died.
There’s very little information available on this euphorbia for gardens. English plantsman John Raven grew it, and his daughter Sarah Raven has this to say:


This is one of the most open-growing and perhaps less elegant of the euphorbias, forming big, rangy clumps nearly 1.8m (6ft) across. But it is definitely a contender for the longest-flowering plant I know. I’ve had one that is yet to stop blooming outside the kitchen at Perch Hill since March 2006. It has not had a single week’s pause, and you can pick decent-sized stems right the way through the winter. I cut some for an arrangement at Christmas, when there is almost nothing of this brightness still surviving. E. ceratocarpa is also very easy to propagate. The cuttings that my parents collected all took extremely easily – even after several days wrapped up in damp loo roll in a plastic bag – and those few plants have created many thousand since. This euphorbia should certainly be more widely grown.” – source here.

Easy to propagate? Ha! I’ve had cuttings take a year to root. The only other person I’ve come across who grows it is garden designer/author Rebecca Sweet. It reminds me of a big, blowsy, lime-green hydrangea when in bloom.

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Euphorbia mellifera is another big shrub like E. lambii, but more lush. Fairly fast growing, this one was planted out from a 4-inch pot last year.
For zones 9 to 11 or container culture. Reseeds lightly here.

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And then there was the moment when the pale, variegated euphorbias entered our lives. ‘Tasmanian Tiger,’ discovered in a garden in Tasmania in 1993, was the first.
Because they turned up at the local nurseries, I grabbed a couple this fall to plant near Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ while it gains size. Short-lived plants have their uses too.

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I tend to try all the pale variegated ones. Some have proved to be stronger growers than ‘Tasmanian Tiger.’
A new one to me, at the nurseries this fall, under Native Sons label, E. characias ‘Glacier Blue’

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An old photo of a bloom truss from Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan,’ which I remember as a very robust grower.

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This non-variegated form of E. characias turned up at local nurseries too this fall.
Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl,’ so named because part of the flower structure has a “black eye.”

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An old photo of a blooming Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow,’ whose leaves have bright yellow variegation that flushes red with cool temps of fall/spring.

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From April 2011, Euphorbia mellifera almost out of frame at the upper left, ‘Ascot Rainbow’ blooming lower right.

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I’ll end with a photo of this incredibly weedy self-sower brought home years ago. Possibly Euphorbia nicaeensis.
A nuisance, yes, but the fresh color and meticulous arrangement of the leaves keeps me from weeding every last one from the garden.

Enjoy (or give to your mother) your Euphorbia pulcherrima (poinsettia) this holiday season, and as alway, mind the sap!


phoenix plants

First bloom on little Pelargonium echinatum, which I wrote about last January here. That its gnarled, dessicated branches somehow put on this performance every January is like getting a sneak preview of spring in a 6-inch pot.

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And oh, happy day, the first bloom my garden has ever seen from coronilla, which I wrote about last May here. The short version is, plants mysteriously die. Sometimes cuttings can be taken before they do, sometimes not. Mercifully, this last cutting I took of the dying shrub rooted.

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This lanky shrub shimmies through a spiral tuteur I bought for it last summer, which gathers up its many scandent stems and lends some needed organization and support. Goldeny pea flowers, beautifully glaucous, rue-like leaves, delicate tracery, shadowy patterns, coronilla has it all. And scent too, though I haven’t detected any yet. Maybe as more blooms open.

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I have one more phoenix plant coming along, a single cutting of Euphorbia ceratocarpa that took well over a year to root, which it finally did this summer. The cutting is now about a foot high and seems to be safely on its way to planthood. I had no idea cuttings could take such time to root. Seeds, yes. But waiting over a year for a cutting to root, as was the case for both the coronilla and the euphorbia, was a complete surprise. The only photo I could find of this willowy euphorbia is from very early days in the blog.

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The typical euphorbia flowers can be seen against the blue fence, to the left of the golden duranta, which is also now gone. Indeed, the pathway that I’m standing on is mostly gone and given over to planting. My neighbor now has the potted Agave americana, and those smoky columns to the left of the agave are the lophomyrtus I just moved to the front garden. I was apparently intending a formal parterre-ish framing for the agave, then obviously changed my mind. There’s a golden coprosma in there too that has been moved to make way for a melianthus. (What a lot of goldeny stuff I had going.) The pergola has since been repainted, and Digitalis ferruginea has been planted where the agave pot once stood. The only thing that remains the same is that ratty robe, which I coincidentally am wearing now. Seems I change out plants much more frequently that I do my wardrobe.

Grace Under Pressure

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This is about as basic as it gets, squirting water out of a garden hose.
Very inefficient and ineffective, yet I grab a hose practically every day, however briefly, to at least water the pots and new plantings.
And as a quick spritzer sometimes to humidify the air. And sometimes just for the sheer goofy pleasure of it.
Hummingbirds have been known to compound the delight by flying into the spray for dazzling aerial baths. The photo was taken sometime last spring.
In that interval after the smoke tree ‘Grace’ leafs out but before the tropical Euphorbia cotinifolia, whose bare twigs are in the mid right foreground, that array of antlers over my head.
Probably sometime in late March/April. (Possibly we were lubing the weather vane cockerel and the camera was brought along for the ride.)

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Back to me in the bathrobe. The goldeny blur under Grace is a duranta.
To its left is/was my beloved Euphorbia ceratocarpa (RIP) which succumbed in fall, though I may have found a seedling.
It’s too soon to tell, but there are three cuttings in sand, yet to root.
It is that rarest of euphorbs, one that does not throw its progeny into every nook and cranny.
One of the few references I’ve found to it was from the Brit Sarah Raven of Perch Hill, that her father, John Raven, brought it home from Sicily.
A very willowy euphorb with airy, sparklerish blooms.
(I have no provenance for that green wool robe either, a gift from my son off Ebay, but it looks like a robe straight out of Bessie Glass’ closet.)

No hose required today, and rain is forecast off and on for the rest of the week.
What does the coming of the rain mean to a gardener in a Mediterranean climate?

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As a start, check out the Moorish gardens of the Alhambra in Spain for its celebration of water:
Constant moving of plants and sitting areas precludes a built-in irrigation system, though I do lay drip hose sometimes when the mood strikes, like last spring.
But drip hose just seems less useful in complicated plantings.
Why underground cisterns are not built into, at the very least, every new house here in So. Calif., to store precious rainwater, is a mystery.
Sixty gallons of rain saved in trash cans is a luxury for potted plants but really doesn’t go very far when faced with a minimum of six months of drought.

Our personal water usage consistently stays at below average for a household of four, though it could be even lower.
Grey water systems, ironically, still seem problematic, since grey water can’t be stored for lengthy periods of time.
There hasn’t been a lawn here since moving in over 20 years ago.
It’s always interesting to read the fiery exchanges on Garden Rant whenever lawns are discussed, and you can plug “lawn” into their search engine for more threads.
It’d be helpful if zones, length of growing season, and average rainfall were given as a prelude to discussion, but it’s a subject that’s been polarizing people for decades.
Delivery (some might say theft) of water from Northern California to Southern California through one of the biggest waterworks projects in human history, the California aqueduct, is straining under population growth demands and drought.

For an intro into the back-stabbing politics over water rights, one need go no further than Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s Chinatown.

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Water use, public and private, is an enduring obsession.