slideshow: beloved garden euphorbias

IHAVE VOICED MY LOVE OF THE GENUS EUPHORBIA before, but not in pictures. What better time than just before Christmas, when we’re confronted with what may be the only one I do not much like, the poinsettia? Try these garden-worthy subjects, like the Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid ‘Efanthia,’ above, instead:

Click on the first thumbnail to start the show, then toggle from slide to slide, using the arrows beside the captions. Enjoy.

One disclaimer about this wonderful genus: The plants exude a sticky white sap or latex when cut or damaged. Some people are allergic to the chemicals in it, which can cause skin rashes or other reactions. Exercise caution, especially in touching your eyes and mouth after working with the spurges.


  1. Tyler says:

    Margaret, a very timely post indeed! I have always enjoyed the garden euphorbias, but it has been my experience (gardening in the Central Valley of California here) that they are quite short lived. Maybe you have better luck with them?

    One of my favorite euphorbias, but not one of the types above, is Euphorbia flanaganii, commonly known as the Medusa euphorbia. This would be one for pot culture in your area (as it is in mine also) – but it’s really spectacular. If you don’t already have it, you should give it a try!

  2. Val says:

    I love these, but I worry a bit about planting things that can cause skin irritation, which some are the Euphorbias are reputed to cause. Does anyone have experience of this?

    1. Margaret says:

      @Val: In perhaps 20 years I have never had a rash — but then again, I have never had poison ivy, either. Most of my friends have no reaction to the garden-variety Euphorbias, but one person I know did, and now she wears gloves when she works with them. Funny that the only plant that give me a rash is certain junipers, if the skin on my forearms gets roughed up when handling the needles (such as if pruning an old plant). Nothing serious, just splotches and itchy as I recall.

  3. Julie says:

    I love Effie too! That’s what I call my Efanthia plants. She gets darker and prettier the colder it gets. Nice to see she made the “cover” of your blog post.

  4. Val says:

    Thanks–I am just cautious and weird, too, I suppose. I don’t really like thorns or anything “prickly” either.
    I find the same irritation with false cypress, and I get a reaction to English ivy, which invades my yard from all directions! It was as bad as poisin ivy.

  5. Margi says:

    It’s interesting to hear about the skin reactions. It is any chrysanthemum that I must
    be careful about. First time I noticed this was when I planted a dozen or so fall mums
    and ended up with blistery rash on my face. Now I wear gloves all the time in the garden…and try to remember to avoid touching my face. However, an itchy nose can
    trump this kind of a rule!

    Euphorbias are a favourite. That is a terrific example in your opening page today!

    1. Margaret says:

      Now you all have me reading on dermatitis causes in the garden. Angelica, alstroemeria, chrysanthemum as Margi mentioned…this Texas A&M article covers quite a few. Seems like the topic for a whole other post I ought to write. :)

  6. Ailsa says:

    Val, I can’t go near euphorbias for the sap! I planted and then promptly tore out a bunch of donkey tail spurge because not only did it *kill* me but it multiplied exponentially. I am susceptible to dermatitis from juniper, euphorbia, poison ivy and giant hogweed and have experienced them all. The last is by far the worst. So I would say if you’re at all concerned either don’t plant them or be careful to wear gloves while working around them and launder those gloves right away.

  7. Judy says:

    I had such a severe reaction to a euphorbia that a friend had given me, I had to have my husband dig it out of my garden. I had been weeding in the summer. I had gloves on, but must have scratched my legs (was wearing shorts), the rash persisted for at least two months.

    Last month I noticed a lovely plant in a local nursery. I reached over to read the tag. My hand barely brushed the leaves. It was a euphobia. I reacted even to that. I also have an allergic reaction to poison oak.

    Lovely to look act, but not to touch.

  8. terryk says:

    I love your Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid ‘Efanthia’! It sure says Christmas. Does it look like that now?

    I went to a England a few years back and met a group of gardeners from Gardenbuddies.com. It was a cyclamen show and hellebore time when I went.

    One of the UK gardeners that came to our ‘meet’ was covered wtih a rash on her face from Euphorbia. Evidently she forgot to keep her hands away from her face. But it was a great time even in spite of the rash.

  9. vtgatos says:

    A friend of mine got some of the sap of Euphorbia myrsinites in her eye – that event sent her to the hospital to have her eye flushed. Being the trooper that she is, she kept it in her garden and, when offering a clump to me, just suggested that I not stick any in my eye. I have not.

  10. Margaret says:

    @Terryk: ‘Efanthia’ stays pretty colorful, but like many evergreen things will start to stiffen and look less full — you know, like a Rhododendron — in the worst cold.

  11. Judy from Kansas says:

    Through ten years operating a greenhouse/garden center, the only thing that ever gave me a rash was lantana. Hubby gets one from bouganvillea. Love your Euphorbias. Miss the eight foot high poinsettia shrubs in our yard in Hawai’i, but can’t learn to love the potted ones at Christmas.

  12. terryk says:

    Bluestone Perrenials has a nice selection including Efanthia,’ and ‘Bonfire’. They also have Tiny Tim, I like that one too. Got to order some!

  13. Rebecca Rose Prodoehl Burlingham says:

    I have an Efanthia that I adore. Have you ever tried to divide or propagate it? I would love a mass planting of this, I also want babies for when the parent dies of old age. How would you get it to multiply?

  14. Arlene says:

    I grow Efanthia and Helena’s Blush under lights in my basement ‘greenhouse’, since my outdoor gardens exist between zones 3 & 4 depending on the winter. They do fill out quite nicely when planted outside in the garden for the summer. I either dig up the whole plant or take cuttings depending on the size of the plant in the garden. They grow well under lights for the winter but I had Helena’s Blush develop mealy bugs and after a couple of washings under the fauce “she” survived and is now thriving in my outdoor garden.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Arlene. Their foliage is beautiful, isn’t it? Barely hardy here, though with lots of snow cover this winter I did better than usual. Hadn’t thought of the indoor treatment!

  15. Marilyn says:

    My favorite Euphorbia is Ascot Rainbow (x martinii). I’m in zone 7B (Raleigh, NC) and it looks beautiful year-round here. Lots of pale yellow color in the warmer part of the year, then takes on a coral hue in the cooler months. Deer haven’t touched it, and I have herds of a dozen or more coming through every night. I have some planted in front of Nandina alba, which echo the color of the pale yellow berries, and another group in front of blue-foliaged grey owl junipers. I was a bit worried about how they’d do in the ground over winter with my heavy clay soil, so I added lots of organic soil to those planting beds, and so far so good (2 winters). One group gets full morning sun, the other gets a few hours of midday sun, and both are vigorous, healthy, lush. I’ve had no problems with dermatitis with them, and my skin is very sensitive to this kind of thing. But then, I always wear gloves in the garden, anyway.

  16. gardenbug says:

    I have a friend who has serious euphorbia problems. She avoids them now.

    Another friends has difficulties with the primula family…which is large! She is a flower show judge and encountered several problems before figuring out the source.

    I have enjoyed E, Blackbird this summer but I fear losing it this winter.

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