When I lived in Prince George I had a large cactus and succulent collection which I carefully brought outside during the warm months. I studied the species and hoped to find some of the more interesting forms. One form was round like a baseball and was a Euphorbia. Of the 2000 members of the Euphorbia species there are the cactus-like, weedy annuals,the festive Poinsettia and shrubby perennials. There are several great garden plants which are well worth growing in any garden. Euphorbia characias (Mediterranean Spurge) is one of the most attractive of all plants you can grow.
Like many of the plants we grow in our gardens Euphorbia characias has a long and interesting history. There are 2 main forms which grow from one end of the Mediterranean to the other side. We start in Portugal with the form Euphorbia characias subsp.characias which grows through Spain and across to Morocco and Libya. It travels through the islands of Sardinia and Malta and onto Italy. From this point east you will encounter Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfeniii. In the ‘east’ I mean through the former Yugoslavia, Albania, through Greece and into western Turkey.
Theophrates(372-287B.C.) was the first to describe Euphorbia characias in ‘Enquiry into Plants’. specific name characias comes from the Greek xaraxias and was first was used to identify the plant by Dioscorides in the 1st century AD. Dioscorides talked of using the white ‘juice’ or sap as a way to remove or lighten body hair. Pliny also mentioned using the sap medicinally. That ‘juice’ is a natural form of latex which is a well know irritant as well as being poisonous.
Recently we have seen a new form of Mediterranean Spurge turning up in gardens; variegated forms which have very uniform variegation on the leaves and bracts. The coloring is generally lovely shades of creams which highlight the already beautiful uniformity of the plants.
Mediterranean Spurge are unusual in that older plants are more susceptible to dying from bad weather, this is thought to be caused by them becoming more woody and leggy with age. Most plants generally do not live beyond 10 years. Fortunately for us, if the plant is in a site it likes it will self-sow and create it’s own replacement. Propagation for the named varieties has to be done by cuttings whereas the species and subspecies are often done by seed.
Euphorbias are interesting in because they have an unusual floral structure, their color comes from specialized leaves called bracts. The flowers themselves are very small and insignificant. The bracts are often somewhat papery and retain their coloring for long periods during the time that the seeds are developing.
We are lucky that Mediterranean Spurge is a fairly hardy and adaptable plant and is easy to grow in many places. They grow best in full sun and well drained soil. These plants have biennial stems which are leafy the first year and produce the flowers the second year, after they are starting to fade cut the stems down as far as you can. Persistent cold with damp are especially hard on these plants and will often kill the older ones develop thick woody taproots. Use these plants in flower borders, mixed beds, as specimens or accents. They grow between 80cm and 160cm (3 to 5ft) depending on the type and location, the more shady the spot the more leggy the plant. They are hardy zones 7 through 10 and tolerate temperatures as low as –10c(10f) if it is a well drained site.
More on Mediterranean Spurge:
The best all round article I have come across:http://www.floridata.com/ref/E/euph_cha.cfm
I love to see where plants come from:http://www.maltawildplants.com/EUPH/Euphorbia_characias.php
Another page which is more on the science side: http://www.nature-diary.co.uk/mallorca/euphorbiales.htm
Until we meet again later on….