Euphorbia Tithymaloides (The Devil’s Backbone Plant)


The Devil’s Backbone in a Southern African native. The rather ominous moniker, ‘Devil’s Backbone’ comes from the plant’s thorns that appear on the stem and resemble a vertebral column only with thorns. The spiked vertebrate fits the shared imagination of the Devil’s appearance.

It is a member of the euphorbia genus widespread in Africa. Tithymaloides means fiery spines in Greek; therefore, the botanical name describes the plant’s appearance. Botanist Vahl from Norway named it.  

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  • Other Names: The Devil’s Backbone.
  • Sunlight: sufficient light is necessary.
  • Watering: needs water during its growing season.
  • Temperature: above 21oC.
  • Growth Season: Spring/Summer.
  • Propagation: Propagation from cuttings is the most effective method.

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Origin and Description

Euphorbia Tithymaloides is a native of South Africa. It is a succulent shrub and it is green all through. Its leaves appear in zig-zag formation; thin and pointed, the plant may shed some of its leaves. The Devil’s Backbone produces red flowers that are usually clustered end the end of branches. The flowers mature to produce capsule-like fruits.

Like most other plants in the Euphorbia genus, the plant produces milky sap when injured. The sap is poisonous, irritate the skin when touched, and causes blindness in extreme cases. The sap causes the plant to be toxic, so you should consider it when positioning it as a house plant or garden.

Entire Plant Of Devils Backbone

The Devil’s Backbone Plant’s Benefit

The people of South Africa have been using the plant as traditional medicine. They use it as an antidote for snake venom. Latex (white sap) has also been used to treat insect stings, ear aches, callouses, ringworms, warts, umbilical hernias, and other skin conditions. Sometimes the latex has been added to mil to act as an emetic.

Euphorbia Tithymaloides Care

The following is how you take care of Euphorbia Tithymaloides.

#1. Sunlight and Placement

This plant is supremely light-hardy, and it is improbable that light would affect it negatively. However, it can survive in partial shade. If you want to grow the plant outdoors, you don’t need to worry about the sun’s intensity; it can handle it. Sufficient light is necessary for some of this plant’s processes, such as flowering, so keeping it in the dark isn’t good for its health.

Suppose you grow Euphorbia Tithymaloides in the house, the best place to position it is near the western or southern windows, which allow direct sunlight into the house. You should then keep the plant about one foot from the window to allow it to absorb the most sunlight possible. A room painted in bright colors is an added advantage because it reflects light ensuring your pant gets the most of it.

Devil’s backbone active growth season is in spring and summer. The plant needs the most light, and you should see it gets it. You could move a houseplant outdoors for four to six hours if it proved difficult for it to get sufficient light inside the house.

#2. Temperature

The other vital consideration on placement is temperature, a crucial determinant of your plant’s health. It does best with temperatures above 21oC, and higher temperatures are preferred during the plant’s growing season. This stick plant is not cold-hardy at all. Temperatures below 15oc can cause damage to the plant. Therefore, if your area experiences freezing temperatures, keep the plant indoors so you can control the temperature artificially.

#3. Soil

This plant’s natural habitat is relatively arid and is, therefore, adapted to grow on the same type of substrate. The soil should be easy to drain away any extra water. You should plant this on the same soil type if you want to domesticate it in a pot or a garden. You can buy a cactus mix as pottage but ensure you mix it with gravel or pumice at a ratio of 80% gravel and 20% cactus mix. The pot where you grow the plant should also have enough drainage holes to keep it safe from waterlogging, which could be the greatest danger to its health.

If you are planting this succulent outdoors, you can keep the soil well-drained by introducing sandy soil into the planting hole. Well-draining soil is essential if the naturally occurring soil doesn’t drain. You can also make French drains to get water off the soil and drain away. 

#4. Water

The Euphorbia Tithymaloides is native to semi-arid and rocky areas and adapted for long periods of drought. As a result of its hardy nature, the plant doesn’t need much water for most of the year. However, it needs water during its growing season. The growth season starts at the beginning of spring and continues till the end of the fall. As a succulent, however, too much water is destructive.

Before giving it another drink, ensure the soil is sufficiently dry. How do you know that the soil is dry? Before giving the plant another drink, ensure the top two inches have no moisture. The best time to water the devil’s backbone is in the morning during all seasons except for winter. In the winter, the plant is only to be watered when it starts to wilt. It is necessary to see that the soil is dry between drinks because waterlogging causes roots to rot.

#5. Fertilizing

The fertilizer used for the Devil’s Backbone should be rich in the nutrients necessary for plant growth. They include potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus. A nitrogen-rich fertilizer will ensure your plant grows healthy leaves, flowers, and fruits. Furthermore, nitrogen will help your devil’s backbone grow faster. Phosphorus is essential in a succulent because it helps to keep the roots healthy. Succulent roots are vulnerable to root rot and they need to be strong. Phosphorus also improves your plant’s ability to protect itself from diseases.

Succulents and the Devil’s Backbone are not an exception enjoy dilute, liquid fertilizer most. Mix it to half-strength and feed. Don’t apply too much of it as it can accumulate dangerous salts in the soil and destroy the plant.

#6. Pruning 

This plant doesn’t require too much pruning; you may want to trim the branches to keep them from growing too long. The plants grow to about four feet and might get too, especially indoors. The plant leaves tend to turn yellow and dry up. Remove any leaves that are not in their best color. Remember, this plant produces poisonous sap and you should have the protective gear to keep the sap at bay. Wear goggles and heavy gloves to keep you protected.  

#7. Repotting

The devil’s backbone is relatively fast, as we have seen. You will need to repot it from time to time for optimum performance. How can you tell your Euphorbia Tithymaloides is underpotted? Answering this question is the first step, as it allows you to determine whether potting is necessary.

You must repot if you see roots protruding from the pot’s drainage holes. It is also necessary for you to repot your plant when you find that the stems are growing too tall and heavy for the pot in which you have planted them to support their weight sufficiently.

Other instances that can make it necessary to repot besides overgrowing.

  1. When you acquire the plant from a nursery: Many nurseries grow these plants in the proper substrates, but you can’t be sure. Repot every new plant to ensure you get the correct pottage.
  2. When the soil is depleted: The substrate can be depleted so that it loses fertility or porosity. In such an instance, you may need to change the substrate to give the plant a better growing environment.

Spring and summer, the plant’s growing season, is the best time to repot the plant. The timing is appropriate because your devil’s backbone will grow immediately after repotting and cure any injuries it may have sustained when repotting. The following is a guide for repotting.

You need the following:

  1. Cactus mix
  2. Pumice or perlite
  3. Compost
  4. Knife
  5. Gloves
  6. Goggles
  7. Bigger pot


  1. Put on protective gear (goggles and gloves).
  2. Tie the various stems of the plant together at different points to make them easier to handle.
  3. Take the knife and run it along the pot’s circumference. This helps you to loosen the root ball.
  4. Lay the plant on its side and pull the plant out. The soil on which the succulent is planted is usually loose, and it should be easy to remove the plant.
  5. Take the new pot and cover its drainage holes with cactus newspaper, coffee filter, or light paper to prevent the potting mix from escaping. The cover should be permeable enough to allow water to pass as necessary. 
  6. Fill the pot partway with the cactus mix and pumice on a 50:50 ratio, add some compost, and mix. You should put just enough to ensure when you place the root bulb in, it will fit nicely in the pot.
  7. Fill in the remaining space in the pot with the remaining potting mix and press it down.
  8. Water it and place it in a suitable location with lots of light.

#8. Pests and Diseases

The Devil’s Backbone Plant is relatively pest resistant for the most part, although it can be attacked by sap-sapping insects such as the mealy bugs. Using neem oil on the leaves is recommended to eliminate these tiny pests. If you use an insecticide, ensure you dilute it to half the recommended concentration to avoid damaging the plant. The chemicals used in the insecticide can scorch the leaves if applied directly.

You can reduce the possibility of your plant being infested with pests by keeping it healthy. Healthy plants can repel the pests more effectively, but hungry plants are usually vulnerable to these pests. Isolate any plant in your Mediterranean garden infested by any pest to keep it from infecting others.

Besides using chemical pesticides, you can cure your infested plant as follows. You can rub the infected parts with alcohol with 70% concentration. Take a piece of cotton wool, dip it into the alcohol, and dab the part of the plant with the said infestation. You can also use chemical pesticides, but it is better to use organic pesticides.

If you notice an infestation, you could apply the following organic pesticides:

  • Neem oil: Unlike the other pesticides listed below, neem oil is a systemic pesticide. It gets into the plant and poisons it against the bugs so that they don’t survive or reproduce when they attack the plant. Pure Neem Oil is made from the neem plant. Therefore, it is entirely natural and not harmful to humans.
  • Hot pepper spray: Hot pepper is quite irritating when it gets on your skin and eyes, and it has the same effects on the bugs infesting your succulents. Spray it carefully on the affected parts to protect your skin and eyes.
  • Garlic spray: A concentrated garlic spray can have the same effects on the bugs as pepper spray. You can manufacture the garlic spray by crushing garlic cloves and putting them in hot water. Put just a little hot water so the end product is concentrated enough to destroy the pests. Remove the garlic residue, put the pesticide in a sprayer, and spray away on the infected parts of the plant.

Always spray a small part of the plant with the pesticide you want to use before spraying on the whole plant. This precaution applies when using contact pesticides, i.e., hot pepper and garlic. You need to see the plant’s reaction before you spray it all. You can reduce concentration if the test shows the plant’s reacting adverse effects on the pesticide.

Root rot is the disease most likely disease to attack this plant. The following are some key indicators that this condition may affect your plant.


Subspecies And Forms Of Euphorbia Tithymaloides

There are several subspecies of this plant. The following are some that follow under this category:

  • Euphorbia Tithymaloides Tithymaloides.
  • Euphorbia Tithymaloides Bahamensis.
  • Euphorbia Tithymaloides Angustifolia.
  • Euphorbia Tithymaloides Padifolia.
  • Euphorbia Tithymaloides Jamaicensis.
  • Euphorbia Tithymaloides Parasitica.
  • Euphorbia Tithymaloides Smallii.
  • Euphorbia Tithymaloides Retusa.

Read More: Kalanchoe Humilis – Everything You Need To Know About This Beautiful Varigated Succulent


There are various ways to propagate this euphorbia. You can propagate using seeds, but cuttings are the most effective way to propagate them. The following is how you propagate by cuttings:


  1. It would help if you had the following things, so put them together before starting.
  2. A sharp cutting tool such as a knife or hand pruner
  3. Alcohol wipes, methylated or surgical spirit, and cotton wool
  4. Four-inch pots depending on the number of plants you want to propagate
  5. Cactus mix and coarse gravel
  6. Heavy gloves and goggles

Take the following steps for successful propagation:

  • Put on your gloves and goggles to protect your skin and eyes from the toxic milky sap that will run from the plant.
  • Take your cutting tool, whether a knife or pruner, and wipe it with alcohol wipes. If you don’t have alcohol wipes, dip a piece of cotton wool into the spirit and swab the cutting tool. Sterilizing the instrument is a step that ensures the plant gets infected with any disease that might be on the tool.
  • Cut one branch at the base. The plant and the component will start oozing sap. Then, rinse the cutting with cold water to stop it from bleeding. Cold water causes the fluid to thicken fast. You can also spray the mother plant’s injury with cold water to keep it from oozing.
  • Allow the cutting to dry by keeping it under a shade for seven days. Please note that the cutting would still root if you planted it without allowing it to callus.
  • Put your potting mix and plant into the pot and add some gravel on the top to keep the cutting stable. The additional support from stone is necessary because you shouldn’t bury the cutting more than one inch below the ground.
  • Water the cutting and put the pot away from direct sunlight, within a temperature range between 65 and 75oF. This cutting should root within eight weeks. Water it regularly to keep it growing.
  • Transplant it into a bigger pot when it roots. Remember you embed it in a 4-inch pot, so you should move it to a pot at least 6 inches wide.
  • If you want to grow the cutting outdoors, you can root the cutting in the permanent position where you want the plant to grow. Thus, be sure to provide it with the conditions described above.

Before conclusion, …

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Final Words

In conclusion, the unique appearance of the Euphorbia Tithymaloides makes it beautiful and eye-catching. It is a hardy plant; therefore, we don’t need much of the devil’s backbone plant care. It is an ideal plant for a busy plant parent. You need to plant it on a suitable substrate to ensure proper drainage.


Richard Miller

Salute everyone. It's Richard, the author of this Succulent & Xeriscaping blog. I am a traveler and a nature lover looking for a connection with the wild green. In my journey, I found a love for succulents and xeriscaping. What attracts me is the long-lasting & unique beauty of every plant I have the chance to see with my own eyes. Welcome to my little blog and let's enjoy a good time together!

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