• Euphorbia, drama queen of the Sierra foothill garden

    by  • June 17, 2011 • Plant Profiles, Sierra Foothills, Spring • 4 Comments

     Euphorbia is one of the most diverse family of plants, with many different shapes, sizes and colors, from shrubs to cactus-like succulents. The common name for the perennials and shrubs is spurge, a not very glamorous name to be sure, I have learned to pronounce the Latin, ‘You-for-bia’. 

    Euphorbias glow lights and darks

    Euphorbias glow lights and darks

    You may already know one type, Poinsettias! Here in the foothills, there are several that do very well in our gardens. This rugged Mediterranean plant is perfect for here in the Foothills. Spurge is used as food plants by the larvae of some butterflies and moths.

    The flowers of the evergreen perennials sold in local nurseries are dramatically colored, lime greens on purple, blue-grey and several variegations, like green and white and the one shown here called ‘Ascot Rainbow.’

    Their blooms last up to three months before the flowers, (actually bracts), fade. The flower-bracts are so unusual and intricate that you must see photos to appreciate them and once seen in nurseries, the appearance alone captivates many a gardener.

    Cheryl's Euphorbia Garden

    Cheryl’s Euphorbia Garden


    No gophers!


    Early this spring I visited my friend Cheryl in Oakhurst, who has an area of her garden devoted to euphorbia. She likes the exotic look of them, deer and drought resistance and the wildly colored flowers. Gophers will not eat these!
    She says, “They are ‘anti freeze’ and aren’t bothered by snow or frost.”


    These are some Euphorbias Cheryl has:

    Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides

    Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides

    Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ is is the common form of spurge, dark green leaves with light green to lime green flowers.

    Euphorbia martinii ‘Blackbird’

    Euphorbia martinii ‘Blackbird’

    Euphorbia martinii ‘Blackbird’ is a large plant to 2 feet high, dark purple to mahogany color leaves with magenta tips and lime green bracts.

    Euphorbia martinii 'Ascot Rainbow'

    Euphorbia martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’

    The unique variegated foliage of Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is phenomenal and looks fantastic in Cheryl’s garden.

    Donkey tail spurge, Euphorbia myrsinites

    Donkey tail spurge, Euphorbia myrsinites

    Since euphorbias self seed readily, in some areas they are considered invasive, however in the Sierra foothills they seem to be controllable. One self-sower is the Euphorbia myrsinites, or Donkey tail spurge.  It’s a ground covering low-grower, steel blue, lime green bracts and the earliest bloomer in my garden. I have since passed on some starts to Cheryl which have happily made themselves at home.

    Euphorbia dulcis 'Chameleon'  with Rockrose

    Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’ with Rockrose

    In my garden, I have the Donkey tail spurge, Donkey tail spurge, Euphorbia myrsinites, Wood Spurge, Euphorbia ‘Despina,’ Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ and Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’

    Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea'

    Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’

    Donkey tail spurge in bloom

    Donkey tail spurge in bloom

    Myrtle Euphorbia or Donkey tail spurge, Euphorbia myrsinities, stays a steely blue well into winter. It tends to trail and ramble and propagate itself into other parts of the garden. The leaves are tight spirals around the fleshy stem and have a nice architectural appeal.

    There is a whole section of the euphorbia family tree that are succulent and extremely drought tolerant. It’s amazing that with all the name changes going on in plant taxonomy, that these two types haven’t been reclassified. Many of these succulent euphorbias look like cactus.

    Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides flower-bracts

    Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides flower-bracts

    All euphorbia have a milky white sap that irritates the skin and eyes. The sap contains a super potent toxin called resiniferatoxin and can produce poison ivy like blisters and irritate the eyes to the extreme and which, ironically, is used to create pain medication. When pruning or working around euphorbias, some even use safety goggles, including me!

    Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea' doesn't mind the cold

    Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ doesn’t mind the cold


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    4 Responses to Euphorbia, drama queen of the Sierra foothill garden

    1. June 18, 2011 at 8:20 pm

      I’ve been weeding much of today and have been dealing with way too many of the less glamorous euphorbias that really really like my garden conditions. It’s good to be reminded that the riffraff actually have some worthy relatives. Out on a nursery run yesterday I ran into some pots of Blackbird, looking dark and seductive. I would be lying if I were to say that I wasn’t tempted.

    2. June 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      Such an interesting post, Sue…when I was a young girl living in the Eastern Cape with my parents after we’d immigrated to SA from then S. Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), we used to travel to the Katberg (Cat Berg Mountains) where my Mum’s sisters lived (on citrus farms)…the trip took us through some lovely Eastern Cape bush and each time we pased a particular valley/ravine, my Dad would ask us the name of the large trees growing thickly in that spot…they were, of course, Euphorbia…for some reason, he thought we needed to be able to recognise them and know their name. I never could figure out why, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson 😉

      Had you quizzed me on those you’ve featured here, I most certainly would not have known or guessed they were anywhere near related to the large specimens we saw!

      I hope you & your family have had a lovely Father’s Day weekend? It has rained here, today but was nice and hot yesterday…such is our winter…one day, you think Spring is on the way, the next you’re plunged into a typical Western Cape winter’s storm 🙂

      Big hug,
      Des xoxo

    3. June 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      James, These are so easy care and unusual. Don’t resist them.

      Desiree, funny, my Dad would point out the different models of cars and quiz us…it was Mom from whom I learned to love the names of plants. Happy Father’s Day to you, too! (I edited your post for ya..haha)

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