Euphorbia characias sub species 'Wulfenii'

Euphorbia characias sub species wulfenii

A bit like Marmite, gardeners  seem to either love or hate Euphorbia (Spurge) – I love them!

This is a large genus of over 2,000 species, including annuals,perennials as well as shrubs and succulents. They originate from many different parts of the world and as a result their growing requirements differ widely. They include the red-leaved species commonly seen at Christmas, Euphorbia pulcherrima (Poinsettia)

Euphorbia pulcherrima (Poinsettia)

Euphorbia pulcherrima (Poinsettia)

Some are evergreen and hardy, others are semi evergreen or deciduous. Nearly all species have distinctive ‘cyathia‘- small cups of long – lasting bracts that can be green, yellow, red, brown or purple. These are ‘cupping nectaries’ containing insignificant flowers with much reduced parts. In the perennials and shrubs these cyathia are carried in dense clusters. The leaves are very varied  and often are shed quite quickly.

Some species are very invasive and are not really suitable for the garden (e.g. E. cyparissias and E. pseudovirgata) others will self seed prolifically so need to be used with care (e.g. E. lathyris, E. hybernia,E.coralloides and E.wallichii). Some species can be invasive in some climates (e.g. E. myrsinites in parts of the USA) but are less problematic in milder, wetter places.

Euphorbia cyparissias (Cypress Spurge)

Euphorbia cyparissias (Cypress Spurge)

Euphorbia myrsinites

Euphorbia myrsinites

All Euphorbias resent disturbance, so siting them carefully from the start is important for long lasting plants. Euphorbia suit every situation from desert to bog, formal courtyard to wild woodland. With a couple of  exceptions Euphorbia are easy to grow. They are also look great in the garden, the colourful bracts lasting many weeks.

Euphorbia look best if allowed to sprawl at will, but if space is limited, you may need to support the floppier ones.

The evergreens require no routine pruning – simply tidy them up when they start to look untidy. Deciduous ones should be cut down to ground level in autumn. New shoots will emerge from the crown in spring. The biennial forms such as E. characias produce new shoots from the base each year. Cut out dead stems in winter. They are not fussy as to soil, but most prefer good drainage.

The bigger, more sculptural forms look good with architecture – against steps or walls, or in corners of courtyards. E. mellifera is a superb statement plant. E. myrsinites can be used in raised planters to sprawl over the sides. E. griffithii ‘Fireglow’ looks great beside water, with bronzy Rodgersias and red-flushed Astilbes, but will also look good in a hot border, while E. ‘Whistleberry Garnet’ associates well with ferns, Hostas and the dark-patterned leaves of Geranium phaeum.

All parts of Euphorbia are useful in flower arranging either in the fresh or dried state.

However all Euphorbia are poisonous and bleed a skin irritant milky sap, whereas the flowers are highly allergenic, so be careful when cutting or handling these wonderful plants.

Euphorbia polychroma

Euphorbia polychroma

Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow'

Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’

Euphorbia characias sub species 'Wulfenii'

Euphorbia characias sub species wulfenii

Further information:

National Collection of hardy Euphorbias

Growing Euphorbias

Euphorbia pulcherrima (Poinsettia)

Common varieties

Wikipedia

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

Advertisements