Euphorbiaceae, one of the largest families in the plant kingdom, is a very diverse group that consists of thousands of species worldwide. The bulk of the species occurs in Africa and Madagascar, but a few are native to the Canary Islands, Socotra, India and the Americas. This family contains more succulent members than any other single genus, however, when we think about Euphorbias, the first, and sometimes only, member of this large family that springs to mind is the Poinsettia - the most popular, best-selling potted plant in the United States; that’s a tough act to follow.
But there is a second well-known and adored member in this clan: the Croton (Codiaeum). With so many different types to choose from, Crotons are one of the most eye-catching plants with their dazzling, multicolored foliage in shades of green, yellow, red, pink, copper, ivory, bronze and deep burgundy, and their varied, interesting leaf shapes.
Included in the mix is a third favourite, the Euphorbia Milii, commonly referred to as ‘Crown-of-Thorns’. Thick, fleshy stems armed with numerous thorny ridges support dark green, lance-shaped leaves and small, pretty flowers - in shades of red, pink, yellow or white – on this charmer that blooms freely most of the year. A unique characteristic of this plant, and all Euphorbias, is the colourful bracts that resemble (but are not) flower petals; the actual bloom is in the center of those ‘petals’. The showy bracts, with their petal-like appearance, help to attract pollinators.
Because this family has such a diverse selection of plants with varying cultural requirements, it’s impossible to make generalizations about care. The best way to succeed with these members is to learn about each individual plant’s specific care requirements and apply that knowledge accordingly.
This article focuses on the care requirements of the Euphorbia Milii.
Caring For This Thorny Bloomer
The Euphorbia Milii, attractive and easy to care for, can handle a substantial amount of neglect and keep on growing. Succulent stems allow it to be quite drought-tolerant, but if it’s severely under-watered, it will drop some (or all) of its leaves. On the other hand, constant over-watering can – and will - eventually kill it.
During the active growing season - or while the plant is blooming - water moderately and allow the top inch or so of soil to dry out. When the fall and winter seasons arrive, and when the plant is not in bloom, much less moisture is required; about half the soil ball from the surface can be allowed to dry. However, the plant must never be allowed to dry out completely or it will drop its leaves. Use a porous, fast-draining soil to help roots breathe and to avoid over watering. Never allow a Euphorbia Milii to say too wet for too long or it will rot.
This native of Madagascar requires a warm, dry location that is well-ventilated. A temperature as low as 7.3°C (45°F) can be tolerated for a very short while but it’s best to never allow it to drop below 10°C (50°F) to 12°C (53.6°F). Average home temperatures that keep you comfortable will keep your plant comfortable as well.
All Euphorbias contain latex, a milky sap that oozes out of cut surfaces. This sticky white substance can be irritating to some individuals, and poisonous to others. Although it’s also possible that you will have no reaction to it, you might want to consider wearing gloves, especially if you will be cutting stems. In addition, keep your hands away from your face until you have had a chance to wash them well. Handle this plant with care; the stems are full of thorns.
Euphorbia Milii And Hydroculture
Hydroculture is the ultimate solution to the otherwise eternal water juggling act. And the Euphorbia Milii takes to the system like a fish to water, flourishing happily as it rewards you with abundant new leaves and generous blooms.
This gorgeous specimen may react to the stress of conversion by dropping some of its leaves, but it will recover very quickly. Conversion is fairly rapid – 2 weeks to 1 month – and new growth, together with more blooms, will shoot out promptly. This particular plant thrives beyond anything imaginable in the hydroculture system and is worthy of a gold medal for best performance.
By The Way
Legend has it that the ‘crown of thorns’ worn by Jesus Christ at the time of his crucifixion was in fact made from the stems of the Euphorbia Milii, thus the plant’s common name. Interestingly enough, the shoots on this plant are pliable and quite capable of being intertwined into a circle. Furthermore, there exists evidence that the Euphorbia Milii had been brought to the Middle East – where it is not a native – before the arrival of Christ. Other common names for this plant include ‘Christ Plant’ and ‘Christ Thorn’.