Tag Archives: Euphorbia mauritanica

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!


the colors of Bilbergia nutans



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The first bloom of the common Queen’s Tears bromeliad, Bilbergia nutans, is just so very startling when it arrives, especially if you’ve only seen it in photos before. Like drop-your-coffee-cup startling. As though David Hockney was in the garden overnight manically touching up the blooms. This bilbergia’s constituent colors are impressively shocking on a small scale, but seeing them together made me realize I’ve been actively pursuing these colors elsewhere in the garden.

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The deep pink on the bilbergia just about matches the last of the nerines to bloom

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The lime green of the bilbergia can be found in Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold.’ Planted again this fall at a pathway’s edge, it’s growing well. Better air circulation and a little more moisture might be the answer. I won’t know if it gets thin and patchy again until next summer. Everything seems so much more promising in fall.

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The bilbergia’s deep blue can be found in salvias like Salvia guaranitica or ‘Indigo Spires,’ or this fern-leaf lavender, Lavandula pinnata var. buchii

I found a couple fern-leaf lavender locally, when I was out searching for some more blue agastache to plant this fall. This lavender was once a really big deal, big enough to drive all the way up to Western Hills (written about here) to fetch when it arrived on U.S. shores in the ’80s. Tender and lacking the eponymous scent, but with those amazingly deep navy blue blooms and finely cut, jade green-grey foliage. Not very long-lived, it grows woody at the base and has to be renewed frequently with cuttings, which is possibly why I stopped growing it. And then it became easily available and I moved on to other plants less easily available, as is my way. I remembered it as Lavandula multifida, but the tag indicated Lavandula pinnata var. buchii. Whatever. Somewhere along the way, its name changed, or so I thought.

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After watching it fill out and increase in bloom for a week or so, and realizing this was just the small, shrubby, blue-flowering answer I was looking for, I went back to the nurseries to find more. This time the label said Lavandula multifida. Now I was confused. At the hort.net site I found this remarkably pertinent discussion from 2002 by John MacGregor:

Not surprising that you are confused. You are not the only one. The
nursery industry in California doesn’t have a clue on this one.

First, Lavandula multifida, L. pinnata, and L. buchii are three different
species. In recent years, I have bought about everything offered in the
trade in this state under these names, trying to sort it out, and have
received the same species from the same nursery under different names as
well as different species under the same name.

Twenty-five years ago we had all three species at the Huntington Botanical
Gardens (at the time, L. buchii was classified as a variety of L. pinnata).
I shared cuttings of all three with various wholesale nurseries and
collectors, and authentic plants of each were sold at Huntington plant
sales. Apparently, along the way some of the cuttings must have been lost
or the name tags of some of the survivors were mixed up (L. pinnata and L.
buchii–both from the Canary Islands–are much more frost-tender than L.
multifida–which is from southern Europe and North Africa). Lately,
everything I have seen labeled “L. pinnata var. buchii” in nurseries
is L. multifida. L. multifida is also sold occasionally as “Lavandula
‘California'” or “California Lavender” as well as under its own name. For
instance, the lavender offered by Monterey Bay Nursery as “Lavandula pinnata
buchii” and illustrated on their web site is actually Lavandula multifida…
” and so on.

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I wish I could get the fern-leaf lavender closer to Euphorbia rigida, but without some demolition, there’s just no room. Photo from last spring.

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The lavender would be equally wonderful with Euphorbia mauritanica in the front gravel garden, which is building up good structure for spring bloom. But no room at the inn there either.

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Until I saw the bilbergia bloom, I wasn’t aware that I’d been orchestrating these colors elsewhere: deep pink, chartreuse and dark blue.

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Gomprehna ‘Fireworks,’ fern-leaf lavender, Pelargonium crispum.
(This gomphrena has almost cured me of my allium envy.)

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After some fall planting, for a brief moment the garden has taken on the colors of Bilbergia nutans. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these colors next spring too.


what Dustin Gimbel does with gazanias

The humble gazania, that kaleidoscopic daisy from South Africa overused in years past as the go-to municipal ground cover, is undergoing a minor local revival. I included a few for this summer in my full-sun back garden, the LA Times did a brief writeup on them, and Los Angeles-based garden designer Dustin Gimbel designed an industrial business park frontage around their free-spirited contributions to the horizontal plane. Three examples hardly make a trend, but I think we’re all tapping into a retro-daisy zeitgeist. LA’s once ubiquitous, overplanted “freeway daisies” are sexy again. A tough, waterwise, vibrant daisy gets a new look when joined by a few well-chosen succulents and really brightens up a business park.

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Above photos by MB Maher

In Dustin’s gazania revival, he includes agaves like ‘Blue Glow,’ Aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf,’ Euphorbia tirucalli, and a stunning pouf of a euphorbia that breaks up and redirects the gazania’s silvery leaves like boulders in a river, Euphorbia mauritanica.

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I carefully stepped into the plantings, almost in full shade from the building by mid-afternoon, to catch the wave of silver as it undulates, pools, and swirls around the succulents.

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And to get a closer look at South Africaner Euphorbia mauritanica, also known as the Pencil Milkbush.
Dustin describes this shrubby euphorb as “cushiony, noodle-y goodness.” I so agree.

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As seen on the far right, Euphorbia mauritanica is just beginning to bloom in typical euphorb, acid-yellow style. Dustin also planted a few young Acacia stenophylla trees in this large industrial park rectangle, which measures approximately 12 feet wide by at least three times that in length, and the design can be easily tweaked over time to accommodate the growth of the trees.

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Dustin shows how gazanias, when treated with invention and respect, don’t just cover the ground but make it memorable.

For similar plantings, that other multi-colored, tough daisy with silvery leaves, arctotis, has been stealing gazania’s thunder lately, but arctotis quickly builds up and sprawls into a taller, bulkier plant. For a low, horizontal effect, gazania is the one. Perennial and evergreen here in zone 10, grown as annuals in colder zones. Choose the silver-leaved varieties, not the green-leaved, to get that glaucous base coat for other colors and shapes to play against. Some species of gazania, like G. linearis, have shown moderate potential for invasiveness and should not be planted close to wilderness areas.

Riches of Rancho Reubidoux

Faithful readers of Reuben Munoz’s blog, Rancho Reubidoux, will have followed Reuben’s decision to join the Riverside Flower Show and Garden Tour, cheering him on as he underwent the harrowing process of qualifying to be on the tour and then the months of grueling preparation leading up to the fateful weekend. Fortunately, I live within 50 miles of RR and wouldn’t miss the chance to tour Reuben’s garden for the world. Garden designer Dustin Gimbel, who blogs at non-secateur, drove out with me to catch the tour of RR yesterday, a gorgeous, balmy Sunday. Tickets for the tour were bought at the Elks Lodge, where the “Flower Show” part of the festivities takes place, with tables holding row upon row of lovingly tended blooms in vases, orchids, succulents, all neatly identified. Very country fair. I could have happily passed a couple hours in the flower show hall, but the prospect of seeing Reuben’s legendary Rancho lured us quickly out of the hall, back in the car, with the “treasure map” in hand that would lead us to the fabulous riches of Rancho Rubideaux, home to Reuben, Paul, Inky and Frito, the latter two safely tucked away with friends for the tour.

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