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Posts Tagged ‘Euphorbia’

Many plants become famous for things other than their flowers. The form and structure of a plant influences how it is used in a garden. The overall color and texture of a plant contributes much to a plants use. Some plants remind people of other things and their name reflects that. Euphorbia species cover all these bases and more. Euphorbia myrsintes(Myrtle Spurge) has wonderful color, texture and form as well as an element which can be somewhat sinister.

 Mrytle Spurge(Euphorbia myrsinites) sprawls across a rock earlier this year.

Myrtle Spurge(Euphorbia myrsinites) sprawls across a rock earlier this year.

Myrtle Spurge has been known from the earliest time. Theophratus (372-287 B.C.) said it looked like a kind of  ‘Tithymallos’ and called it ‘Myrtle-like’. Dioscorides described it as ‘hath leaves like to Myrsine, but greater and strong and sharp and prickly on top’. We also come to Pliny who said ‘Mytites had medicinal uses. Flower heads where harvested and dried long before they had started to swell to blossom and were used with other plants and said to heal sores in the mouth and used as an emetic. We of course do not use this plant for any type of medical or edible use today.

The chartreuse flowers of Euphorbia myrsinites contrast with the  distinctive sea green foliage to produce a unique sight in the garden.

The chartreuse flowers of Euphorbia myrsinites contrast with the distinctive sea green foliage to produce a unique sight in the garden.

With such an ‘old’ plant we are not the least surprised to find out where Euphorbia myrsinites comes from; the Mediterranean. Euphorbia myrsinites grows naturally in a wide area from the Balearic Islands near Corsica, moves across southern Italy through Croatia, Bosnia Hercegovina and Montenegro and through Greece. From Greece it is found in Turkey and Asia Minor south and east all the way to Iran. It is found in rocky and sandy areas as well as in open areas under open forests often populated by Pine. The plant grows from near sea level into mountain slopes.

The serpentine foliage of Euphorbia myrsinites becomes grayer in the drought and heat of summer here.

The serpentine foliage of Euphorbia myrsinites becomes grayer in the drought and heat of summer here.

All Euphorbia species have milky sap wich is released when the plant is damaged. The sap is a form of natural latex which is sticky and contains Diterpene esters which are often irritating to people who have sensitivities. Not all people react to this chemical in the same way I for years propagated many species of Euphorbia and had no trouble, I was always careful when doing cuttings and did my work in well ventilated areas and washed my hands throughly. If you have any concerns do not grow Euphorbias which include Poinsettia of Christmas, or grow them in area where they are out of the way.

A seedling Myrtle Spurge is seen growing in a crevice with native Sedum and Oregon Grape.

A seedling Myrtle Spurge is seen growing in a crevice with native Sedum and Oregon Grape.

Euphorbia myrsinites grows in Victoria well as long as it has good drainage. The best plantings I have seen here are at Government House in the Terrace Garden which is a steep cliff area with gardens running down its face. In this garden there are many tender and exotic plants as well as those which are drought tolerant and can live in areas with little soil. Several species of Euphorbia are featured there. There is also a rough stone staircase which has plants in the cracks including todays plant. Another interesting planting is found at Glendale Gardens where these plants are displayed in the drought tolerant garden.

The rock staircase in the Terrace Gardens at Governemnt House is a perfect place to display Euphorbia myrsinites.

The rock staircase in the Terrace Gardens at Government House is a perfect place to display Euphorbia myrsinites.

Euphorbia myrsinites is easily grown in soil which is extremely well-drained and not to nutrient rich. Full sun at all times in an absolute must. These plants ideally like to sprawl on rocks or gravel or hand slightly over edges which they dry quickly from rains.  This plant has thick leaves and a thick base which is almost a caudex which helps it withstand drought conditions for several months at a time. These plants are excellent in large rockeries, containers, slopes and out of the way crevices which are hard to maintain. Creeping Spurge grows about 15-20 cm.(6-8 in.) tall and sprawls 45-60 cm. (18- 24 in.). It is rated as growing in zones 5 though 9 or tolerates temperatures down to -29 c (-20 f.) with perfect drainage and protection from winter winds.

Here the thick caudex-like rootstock is visible where this Myrtle Spurge has been pulled out slightly.

Here the thick caudex-like rootstock is visible where this Myrtle Spurge has been pulled out slightly.

Myrtle Spurge often is not long-lived but can produce seedlings which can be moved into place. Seedlings also are easily removed if not wanted or remove the flower heads before the seed has ripened. In some areas Euphorbia myrsinites has been classified as a noxious weed for it has been able to seed and spread into unwanted areas. It can not be grown or brought into Colorado, Oregon or Washington states. It is up to us as  nursery growers and gardeners to make sure we are not causing a problem by not taking care of our plants. by removing spent flowers or disposing of seed heads we can make sure that attractive but foreign plants do not become a problem in the future.

 
Now for some interesting and informative links:

Wiki page of this plant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphorbia_myrsinites

How this plant is viewed at Poisonous Plants of North Carolina: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Euphomy.htm

The Drought Tolerant Garden at Glendale Gardens: http://www.glendalegardens.ca/droughttolerantgarden.php

Expereinces of the people of Dave’s Garden, pro and con:  http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/781/

………See you very soon right back here………

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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.

A perfectly grown Euphorbia characias ssp.characias in full sun.

A perfectly grown Euphorbia characias ssp.characias in full sun.

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.

I think this is what Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii might look like growing in the wild.

I think this is what Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii might look like growing in the wild.

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.

Handle with care: All parts of Euphorbia characias can irritate the skin!

Handle with care: All parts of Euphorbia characias can irritate the skin!

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.

The lovely Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue' is said to have a more intense blue green coloring.

The lovely Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue' is said to have a more intense blue-green coloring.

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.

The color from the floral bracts of Euphorbia characias lasts for months

The color from the floral bracts of Euphorbia characias lasts for months

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.

The chartreuse bracts are much bigger than the Euphorbia characias flowers.

The chartreuse bracts are much bigger than the Euphorbia characias flowers.

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.

Several large Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue' found in the long border at Government House in Victoria.

Several large Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue' found in the long border at Government House in Victoria.

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….

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