Euphorbia, Beautiful but Sometimes Dangerous



When you trim ANY Euphorbia variety – and there are many lovely ones among the 2000 or so species in the Genus -

Be Careful not to get the latex like sap that bleeds from cut stems onto your hands or face

……and Oh my Goodness, Don’t rub your eyes !

……and clean your clothing and tools thoroughly.

  • Many different kinds of Euphorbias have somewhat recently become readily available to gardeners everywhere. In general, their beauty, hardiness and the ease of successfully growing these plants make alot of their varieties ever more popular.
  • With substantially increased use of  garden forms of this Genus, there are more people exposed to the potential of an allergic reaction.
    Please  make your friends and neighbors aware of this possible drawback, and tell them to be careful………especially if you notice they already have some Euphorbia relatives in their landscapes. Some ‘bleed’ less sap than others, but forewarned is forearmed.
  • I have been handling these plants for years, as have many assistants and clients, and have never had any allergic response to them, but apparently while some people can handle these plants with no problems at all, other people will react violently to the latex like sap that bleeds out when the plants are cut. It has been reported that some people may also react after touching the plant bodies themselves, even uncut.
  • Sometimes the area of the eyes can be especially sensitive. As in the case of some insect stings for people with sensitivity to them, there may be swelling, and this can be particularly upsetting and dangerous in the face and throat areas.
  • I recently witnessed this Dire effect. Not having had any treatment, the person affected became hugely swollen all around the face and eyes. In her case, she went to her Doctor and subsequently Benadryl ™ helped to resolve the symptoms. Since then I have been made anecdotally aware of others who have had similar, if less extreme, painful and disturbing reactions.
  • Since the individual affected most strongly also has an allergy to bee stings, those of you that share that sensitivity may want to be especially careful.
  • Any of you who would not want to run the risk of having a reaction may prefer not to grow any Euphorbias.
  • If you have children of ages where all the world is a tasting opportunity, it will be safer not to grow this Genus, at least until the children are older and wiser. My sister liked sand at an early age, but some children are plant tasters.
    What to do If……..
  • If you are exposed, at your local pharmacy you can find a product called Tecnu®, which should be applied to the area of contact before you wash.
    Its job is to take up the oils on the skin after exposure to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak, and it can similarly help many people after contact with Euphorbia sap. It is also used also to clean the clothes and tools involved when the exposure occurred.
    If Tecnu® isn’t readily available and you have a bar of Fels Naptha® soap handy under your sink, Fels Naptha is reputed to have a better effect than other commonly available kinds of soaps. Could it be the bit of Lye in it?
  • If you are a gardener or landscape person who is likely to be exposed to any of these plant irritants, it may be best to  consult your Physician beforehand for medicine to have on hand in case of an allergic response.
    Even some people who are not sensitive to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak may still react to Euphorbias.
  • Its good to keep some Tecnu where you can get it quickly, perhaps in your first aid kits, just in case.

So Why Grow Them?
Because there are many wonderful things about Euphorbias to consider.


  • Most people would agree that Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are beautiful and useful in ways that no other plant can quite replicate. It is the same for ‘garden’ varieties of Euphorbias.
  • Among the many other very remarkable kinds of Euphorbias, some have a particular niche in our green world that few other plants can occupy.
  • And the Deer don’t typically eat them, Yay !…….. Probably precisely because of the irritant in their sap.


Euphorbia graminea Diamond Frost

This lovely floriferous annual is perhaps the single most useful ingredient I have in my repertoire of  plant elements for container plantings. It contributes an airy and cooling quality to any planted grouping in which it is incorporated, growing between other materials gracefully, blending them together without disturbing their growth. When other kinds of plants lean with the weight of their summer flowers, E. Diamond Frost will become increasingly vertical (and wider too) through the growing season, continously flowering with very minimal trimming, flattering all the plants with which it resides. It is heat and drought tolerant, tough in character but delicate in appearance, a winning combination.
This one does not return in our zone, but I scramble to get it from the nurseries each year so as to be sure to have it on hand when I am making up my container compositions.

Euphorbia cyparissias

Euphorbia cyparissias is beautiful and valuable in the landscape nearly all season. Many self sown generations of this plant have been happily occupying the ledge of wild things on my street for more than 30 years, with no attention whatsoever. That was how we first met, and I just had to find out who that lovely plant was.

  • The colors of the stems, leaf bracts and flowers contribute to its beauty, but it is in foliage texture and overall adaptability to inhospitable locations that this plant excels, as do many of its relatives. In driveways, ledge pockets and other marginally habitable places, these can be of use. Though individual plants are small, the many tenanted colonies make a broad and satisfying visual statement.
  • The ‘flowers’ of Cousin Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are modified leaf parts, so with that precedent I include E. chamaecyparissias in my long flowering self sowers list. I value these feathery plants as much as any otherwise floriferous treasure.
  • E. cyparissias Fen’s Ruby is an especially beautiful form with its mahogany and lime florets through April and May. Equally importantly, the feathery leaved colonies look excellent for many months with one trimming at most (*** Now be careful of the sap !).
    If you prefer, you don’t have to trim them at all, just pull out any plants that brown up, leaving the ones that are green and fresh looking. That is how I usually proceed with them.
  • Each plant is from a few inches up to 18” high, depending on the ecology inhabited. Their bluegreen color and soft texture contribute a great deal to the beauty of the sunny to semi-sunny places where they like to grow. If you have ½ day sun and some stone crevices, and site them where you don’t mind an expanding colony, you will probably enjoy their appearance and self sustaining capabilities very much.…………………………………………………………………..
    Euphorbia dulcis Chameleon

    E. chameleon has been popping up here and there throughout my perennial plantings since I introduced it into my gardens 10 years or so ago. Mahogany leaves at 18″ high dress up garden beds by their contrast against greens, while lyrically echoing the coloration of red Maples and other sundry plants with related russet hues in their foliage and flowers. Appearing in some new places each year because of their naturalising tendencies, they add enhancing surprises to the landscape. They are not nearly as prolific as E. cyparissias in offspring, but you will have quite a few most likely since they are ecologically easy to please, and so seed into a variety of habitats. The minute they don’t look nice, I trim them to the crown, and they dont seem to mind too awfully much, reliably returning.
    When there are too many I edit some out, usually leaving the young ones and deleting the older individuals as they become rooty with age.
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