Tag Archives: Euphorbia characias wulfeniii

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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’


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.”


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.


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!

driveby garden: Baker Street, San Francisco

For those who plan to attend the garden blogger meetup in San Francisco this year, known as the Garden Bloggers Fling, here’s a tiny glimpse of what the City offers mid January. And if you haven’t decided to attend yet, just imagine what June will be like.

The grand houses and dowager apartment buildings of the Marina District are set back just a few feet from the sidewalk. On Baker Street, there is the rare urban garden-making opportunity in those narrow, rectangular beds bordering driveways and front door walkways. Varying in size, these photographed below are relatively large, maybe 5 X 4 feet in size, running perpendicular to the sidewalk. Most of these spaces are planted simply, grassed or paved over, but someone grabbed the reins and went absolutely wild in maybe three or four of those rectangles, and in the adjacent parkways too.

What first slowed my pace from quite a distance were the spires of this brilliant, lemony bulbinella leaning into the sidewalk:



Bulbinella nutans? This bulbinella’s leaves were strappy and wide, not grassy.


Up close, the extravagance of the planting brought me to a full stop.
And closer inspection revealed that two rectangles had been planted almost in mirror symmetry.


The two Agave americana var. medio-picta ‘Alba’ were the tip-off.
But there were also twin Mediterranean Fan Palms, one each in the center of these two rectangles, and the same plants were repeated in varying combinations.


The symmetry wasn’t pushed to an extreme, but the overall shapes and sizes were congruent with the neighboring beds.
Massed aeoniums were planted alongside one agave, a crassula alongside the other.
Both dark and green aeoniums were repeated extensively throughout.


The blue fronds of one of the young fan palms can be seen here, along with various aeoniums and dyckia. In the distance, a yellow phormium anchors another rectangle, possibly Phormium ‘Yellow Wave.’


The beds were built up and rimmed with stones encrusted with sempervivums and baby tears.


The bed with the yellow phormium, bulbinella, yucca (filamentosa?) almost buried under the phormium, Agave bracteosa, echeverias, with the dried, aged blooms of a hydrangea nearer the house. The large grassy clumps in front of the phormium may be aloes. Amazingly enough, I think there may have been some beschorneria in here too. It’s hard to say how old the plantings are, but another small garden could easily be made from the abundance of plants without leaving noticeable gaps. In the Bay Area, a succulent garden can quickly leap from the initial, spare, well-spaced plantings to the lushness of these little gardens.


The palms in particular will definitely be needing more elbow room.

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But at this moment in time, the proportions still hold up. Succulents are the perfect place holders here, easily thinned out to allow more room when necessary — well, maybe not so much the dyckia, seen here next to one of the medio-picta agaves. I don’t dare thin the enormous clump of dyckia in my front garden. It is far more formidable a plant than any agave where flesh wounds are concerned.


The phormium repeated in the parkway with what looks like Kalanchoe grandiflora.
Euphorbia characias wulfeniii has seeded among the plantings too.


I’m pretty sure this is a beschorneria in the parkway, also known as the Mexican lily, which all have spectacular flower spikes that dangle intricate lockets of blooms.


Another plant repeated in different combinations was the squid agave, Agave bracteosa, here among baby tears, variegated yucca nearby.


Lush, strappy parkway.

What a pleasure it was to stroll along this undulating sequence of intense planting built up of rosettes and variations on strappy, spiky leaves. And you can’t miss it, should you attend the Garden Bloggers Fling. It’s directly across from here:


The Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium, though I understand the Exploratorium is moving elsewhere soon.

Magnolia stellata 1/12/13 Legion of Honor

Magnolia stellata in bloom January 2013, Palace of Fine Arts