What Are Euphorbia Cactus Types?

Euphorbia is a genus of cacti, one of the world’s most diverse genera of flowering plants. There are more than 2100 varieties of the genus in the world. These species vary widely in appearance and husbandry. They also come from different ecosystems scattered on all five continents.

myrtle spurge euphorbia cactus
Photo by snibl111 via Pixabay

Common Characteristics

Although these varieties are different, they have some common characteristics as follows.

1. Thorns

All euphorbia varieties have thorns that occupy the entire surface area of the plant virtually. However, many plants only have thorns on their branches. From the biggest to the smallest, Euphorbias are covered with thorns on the stem and all the branches.

2. Milky Sap

This is another common characteristic of euphorbia plants. All of them have a milky sap. The sap is quite watery compared to other plant saps, and it flows copiously at the slightest injury of euphorbia. This sap is usually poisonous when ingested or comes to contact with the skin or eyes. You should always be well protected when pruning or otherwise working with these plants.

3. Polyandrous Flower Arrangement

These plants flower in spring and summer. Its flower arrangement is polyandrous because each plant has a single female flower surrounded by several male flowers. Euphorbia flowers are all surrounded by a cyathium, a cup-shaped leaf-like structure. This covering protects flowers from the wind that usually blows fast in these plants’ natural habitat.

white flowers of euphorbia cactus
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Euphorbia Cactus Types Table

The following are some of the most common euphorbia cactus types and their characteristics.

Common NameBotanical NameUSDA ZonesCharacteristics
PoinsettiaEuphorbia pulcherimma10a – 11bIts leaves are dark green with an elliptical shape. The whole leaf margin is smooth with a thin tip and pointed lobes. The plat also has bracts that are typically red. Bracts in some of its varieties, especially cultivars, are pink. This plant originates in Mexico.
Desert CandleEuphorbia abyssinica9b -11bThe Desert Candle is a large tree that can grow up to 10 meters high. As the Abyssinia in the name suggests, it is an Ethiopian native, also found in Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan. The stem is woody; you can use it for timber production. The side branches are green, as are the stem and tiny oval leaves that it sheds during the dry season. The plant has yellowish plants that have bracts but no petals.
Pencil CactusEuphorbia tirucalli10 – 12This is one of the smaller euphorbia plants because it grows between 20 and 30 inches tall with a 10-inch spread. It is probably the only one in the genus without thorns. It can either have a single stem or multiple stems as it grows, and it has several other common names. The additional common names include Indian tree spurge, finger tree, milk tree, petroleum plant, etc.
African Milk TreeEuphorbia trigona9 – 11The most distinguishing feature of this plant is that its leaves grow directly on the stem, without branches. Thorns on the African Milk Tree appear in pairs on the stem, and then the leaves grow between the pairs of thorns. It can grow to a maximum of 2.7 meters, and It branches on the top to make several shoots. These shoots give it an appearance of a candelabrum.  
Dragon Bones TreeEuphorbia Lactea10a – 11bThis is a tall woody tree that can reach a  height of five meters, although, in some conditions, it can be as short as one and a half meters. Although it is big, it grows like a shrub, and it typically has four stems per plant. The stems stand at an angle, and it has thorns on the stem. These thorns stand out because they are black on a green bark. The plant also goes by the common name mottled spurge.
Crown of ThornsEuphorbia milli9 – 11This shrub is famous because it is said to have produced the thorns that made the crown placed on Jesus. It is a shrub that can grow to 1.8 meters if left unattended.   Its stem is covered with numerous thorns, which are straight, sharp, and long, each of them can grow up to three centimeters. The leaves are bright green and fleshy, and they can grow to 3.5 cm long and 1.5 cm broad. It has small flowers with red petals. 
Wood SpurgeEuphorbia amygdaloides6 – 8This is one of the shorter plants in the Euphorbia genus. It can attain a height of up to 20 inches, and it originates from the Mediterranean, Europe, and Western Asia. The plant is compact, evergreen, and bushy since it is quite prolific in branching.

Final Words

In last words, the seven cactus types we briefly discussed above represent a tiny percentage of all euphorbia plants. However, the diversity of characteristics may help you see how diverse the genus is. It is important to emphasize that the milky sap (lumber) produced by plants in this family is poisonous. There have been many reported cases of blindness occasioned by this sap getting into victims’ eyes. Always wear protective clothing when tending these plants. It is also true that these plants are beautiful and highly exotic.

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