euphorbia-palustrisMY 2 CENTS IS THAT EUPHORBIA PALUSTRIS is the best euphorbia, or at least for cold-zone gardens that cannot grow the really best ones of all (those Zone 8 types like E. rigida, for example, or handsome, tall characias subspecies wulfenii, a Zone 7-hardy beauty). Now that those words are out of my mouth I am thinking how much I love every Euphorbia, so maybe I am a big fat liar by saying one is best. Oh, dear. Want to know why I wrote that first sentence anyhow, and what I love about this plant?

E. palustris, as its species name reveals, is a marsh-type plant, so wet and heavy soils are no problem for it (though it doesn’t seem to require them). Most spurges are finicky about such conditions. Not this one. It gets to between 2 and 3 feet tall and at least as wide.

I grow seven or eight other Euphorbias, including the basic polychroma, its newer, red-foliage variant called ‘Bonfire,’ and the fiery-colored one called E. griffithii ‘Dixter’ [above]. In California, mail-order Digging Dog Nursery has a good list of spurges, but not palustris. I swore I got my most recent generation of plants at Forestfarm, but I don’t see it in their current list. Hmmm….how about Annie’s Annuals?

The hardest thing about growing spurges is cutting them back, meaning forcing yourself to do it even when they still look OK. I have to confess I don’t like to cut back E. palustris (I do with the polychromas, after their bloom starts to fade, and they push up a new mound of freshness). I divide this lovely taller species every few years to keep the clumps vigorous, and cut it back in fall during garden cleanup, but that’s about it. Remember: the milky sap of Euphorbia (from poinsettias to the cactus-lookalike houseplants types to these garden plants) can cause skin irritation in some people. Keep your hands away from your face after working with them, and wear gloves.

Oh, and do you have a favorite Euphorbia? I almost forgot to ask.

  1. Andrew Ritchie says:

    Much like your strained relationship forsythia, I have to say that euphorbias have never really dazzled me. Maybe I’m a minority, but you asked! :-)

  2. teaorwine says:

    My favorite is Diamond Frost Euphorbia with a delicate lacy flowering, white, of course. ;)

    Creating lots of texture, I have it in containers with white petunias, sweet alyssum and blackie sweet potatoe vine.

  3. margaret says:

    @TeaorWine: So funny, I just came back from a local nursery and the owner said just that when I pointed to the plant (which I haven’t grown): Great filler in pots w/annuals. You all must be trying to tell me something…
    @Nancy: I am looking forward to the fall show you suggest–it has been great this spring for weeks, and I think I am going to give it a haircut about now.

  4. Karen T says:

    I’m a bit evangelical about Euphorbias and wanted to share pictures, too, so I’ve posted my lengthy response to this question here. I hope that’s not bad form!

    The short answer is that I love E. characias wulfenii best of all. But Dixter has been on my list for awhile — haven’t grown it yet. I need to track it down and give it a try. You got me thinking about it again when you posted that pic recently, Margaret. Thanks for the push.

  5. Carol, May Dreams Gardens says:

    I just today planted ‘Bonfire’. Looking forward to seeing how it grows in my garden.

  6. margaret says:

    @Karen T: No, not bad form…helpful (and jealous-making!). Obviously I haven’t got one to photograph. I see you have myrsinites, too, which I love (almost succulent-looking) and many more goodies.
    @Carol: Another signal that today must be a Euphorbia day!
    @Andrew: Definitely enough other kinds of plants to go around. ;-)

  7. Andrew Ritchie says:

    Well, actually… I may have to eat my words. I did some ‘encyclopedia-ing’ and discovered that myrsinites, polycarpa and Dixter are actually…beautiful! Words can be tasty sometimes.


  8. Ken Smith says:

    Gotta love the euphorbia for its subtle greys and bright green colors. But the highest praise is heaped on them due to form and symmetry. They go beyond two dimensional, always with height, circular or spiral-like symmetry, and full of variety. Last month this Donkey Tail euphorbiawas my favorite.

  9. margaret says:

    Welcome, Curtis. Thank you for your vote of confidence! I just enjoyed a visit to your blog, by the way.
    @Ken: The donkey tail looks like E. myrsinites, a favorite. A sculptural plant I’ve grown for many years. Great shots!

  10. Doris says:

    I am quite allergic to euphorb ooze but donkey tail = myrsinites is my favorite, esp. since it’s cute and stays blue-green tinged with pink here all winter (zone 6 in hills near Gettysburg, but often -20 F, sometimes -30, usually 20″ rain–rainshadow–but up to 60″). But most USEFUL is E. nicaeensis. Originally got it from Chiltern in England but it seeds itself around. 18″ true perennial,evergreen here in very heavy alkaline clay, wet in winter and dry in summer and is a good sub for polychroma, which doesn’t survive winter, and taller palustris, which doesn’t survive summer. Rounded form, not quite a mound, with much thinner stems and thus more delicate look. Red-tinted stems, and the usual spring thru fall yellow “flowers”. Roots don’t spread.

  11. margaret says:

    Welcome, Doris, to A Way to Garden. Who knew?…another euphorbia to hunt down. Thanks. (As if we all needed prodding to go search for/buy more plants!)

  12. Karen T says:

    Those of you who grow myrsinites — does it seed freely? I’m debating whether to buy a couple more or count on it procreating.

  13. Layanee says:

    Thanks for the resource list for euphorbias. I love them as they are quite drought tolerant. I have E. polychroma and E. amygdaloides but have wanted to add more. Your list is just the ticket. Oh, and I love the term ‘Godlight’!

  14. margaret says:

    @Karen: Yes! Lots of babies to be expected.
    @Layanee: Uh-oh, you are about to head down the slippery slope into spurge heaven. See you there!

  15. Ken Smith says:

    Yes, myrsinites does seed freely. Also, amygdaloides robbiae is extremely invasive, sending out underground runners everywhere. But I really like it, so I just plant it in a plastic pot and sink the pot in the ground. It does great in the shade and doesn’t need much water. Here is are closeups of the amygdaloides, a couple captured in a rain drop reflection. amygdaloides

  16. Linda P says:

    Hi, I love Euphorbia and have all the varieties in my zone 5B. I have usually put the warmer zoned plants in warmer beds and protected them. Usually it works out. Palustris go through various changes of height and flower, leave and color and they get very tall and strong but some times over taking their space. I lop them down mid season and then they grow again. You can get Palustris from Sunny Border and they usually have most of the varieties.

  17. Megan says:

    I almost cried when I gave away my Euphorbia rigida & E. atropurpurea last month… now that I’m in Wisconsin I’ve been on the look out for Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Megan. I think this might be the genus of perennials that I love the best. Not even sure why…just always have attracted me. Guess you agree!

  18. Kaveh says:

    I’m lucky enough to live in California where I can pretty much grow all the Euphorbias (E. ‘Blue Haze’, E. characias ‘Portuguese Velvet’, and E. lambi are some of my best and E. resinifera is pretty awesome for a more succulent variety). But for my old garden at my dad’s place I will have to agree with you Margaret.

    E. palustris is pretty fantastic. Not only are the original clumps by the pond still going strong 12 years later but it seeded into the rocks on the pond waterfall for some added awesomeness. Growing right in running water that freezes solid in winter and doing just fine.

  19. Bonnie Story says:

    I’m loving “Fireglow”. Only ever saw it in fall and loved it. So when it bloomed a big red exotic flower at the tip of each spike, I was thrilled. Has been blooming for weeks. Invasive, but I have shovels for that! Also I like the well-behaved “Cushion spurge” long lasting cheery yellow large flowers. Needs no care beyond a haircut in fall. Not invasive.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Bonnie. Love the detailed feedback about how it grows for you. Of course now I need to go track it down myself…uh-oh, more plants!

  20. Jennifer says:

    I’m trying to get euphorbia “Blackbird” to survive the winter in my zone 5b garden – do you have any tips for winter protection? My first one didnt survive winter but it is so pretty I am trying again.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jennifer. I have failed with these new crosses (like ‘Ascot Rainbow’ also). I am likewise in Zone 5B. I have killed multiples in multiple spots and conditions for a couple of years, so my thought is that I cannot overwinter them here. The plants are rated Zone 6 and maybe that’s why!

  21. Liz Barton says:

    I heard euphoria will keep Gophers (Richardson ground squirrel) away from your garden. What do you know about that?

    1. margaret says:

      The hardiest one to maybe start with is the most familiar: E. polychroma. Many others are Zone 5 and another whole lot of them are Zone 6 or even less hardy.

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