Information About Pencil Cactus
Pencil Cactus Plant – How To Grow Pencil Cactus
By Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
The pencil cactus plant is in the Euphorbia family of succulents. It's an unusual looking plant that can instantly add interest to the succulent garden. Find tips on caring for a pencil cactus in this article.
Pencil "Cacti" - The Stick Euphorbias
Euphorbias come in all shapes and sizes and one of the most commonly grown but unusual Euphorbias are the stick Euphorbias. These plants are basically leafless shrubs and trees and make for unique landscape and potted specimens. This article will introduce the reader to just a few of the dozens of such weird plants.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 23, 2010. Your questions and comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
One of the weirder group plants you can grow are those I call the stick plants. These are actually Euphorbias, though the common name for several of them are Pencil Cacti. They are not cacti at all, however, but succulent spineless plants from various warmer parts of the globe. Though many are from South Africa, it is interesting that many are from diverse areas of the world, from northern Africa, to the Mediterranean, and some from South America, Central American and even the U.S. These plants are a excellent demonstration of convergent evolution, and adaption to environmental conditions with independent development of the "stick" (leafless and spineless) architecture. It should be noted there are some true cacti also with the common name pencil cactus (a few Cylindropuntia and an Echinocereus share this common name as well). I have grown several of these peculiar Euphorbias, though are dozens more I have no experience with. This article will be an introduction to some of the more common "stick plant" Euphorbias.
Cylindropuntia kleiniae ( left photo shindagger ) and Echinocereus waldeisii ( right photo CactusJordi ) have the common name of pencil cacti, but these are true cacti
I am not including spiny species, like the Euphorbia baioensis (left) or the myriad leafless, spineless medusoid species like Euphorbia inermis (right), in this article
This is a difficult group of plants to make a lot of generalities about, as they vary quite a bit in their ease of growth, cold hardiness, tolerance of wet soils and need for sunlight. However, the plants I am most familiar with are some of the hardiest and easiest of all the succulents to grow, not to mention some of the easiest of the genus Euphorbia.
All these plants have that well-known toxic sap, typical of all the Euphorbia species. But for some reason, most of these stick Euphorbias seem more apt than other Euphorbias to release their saps with minimal trauma. This makes pruning and moving these plants a greater hazard in some ways than I find with most of the Euphorbias. On the other hand, none of these have spines which are commonly found throughout the Euphorbia world. So if one can avoid the sap, there are few other dangers with these plants. Avoiding the sap is not so easy and it can sit innocuously on ones' skin for hours and later on accidentally get rubbed into the eyes or onto other sensitive mucous membranes, resulting in a lot of intense burning (and potential blindness). Eating sap is also, obviously, recommended against, though it is not as toxic as some toxic plant lists make it out to be (ingestion often results in vomiting and possibly other gastrointestinal upsets, but actual lethal ingestion incidences in either people or animals is quite rare).
Euphorbia leucodendron cut oozing saps (left) Euphorbia tiraculli cut and sap (right)
Even compared to most other species of Euphorbia I have in the yard, these dinky, pencil-diameter plants seem to crank out a lot more sap for their size (Euphorbia pseudocactus hybrid on right oozing relatively little sap for its size)
Euphorbia tirucalli (Pencil Cactus or Pencil Tree) This is the most commonly grown of all the Stick Euphorbias and for good reason. It is probably the easiest Euphorbia to root, and to grow, and to keep alive in hot and cold weather (though of course it has its limits). It is one of the fastest-growing of all the succulents. I had a one foot tall seedling grow into an over 100 pound behemoth in just a few years, though it was still only a shrub at that point. Euphorbia tirucalli is native to much of Africa. The plant basically consists of a stem or trunk and lots of branches that end in stiff, tubular pale green growth about as big around as a pencil- hence the common names. Though most of the year this plant is leafless, growing points are often tipped with a few small, lancelote leaves only really noticeable if one looks closely. Flowers are brief and occur mostly in late spring, but, at least here in southern California, occasionally in early autumn as well. These too are not too noticeable. The plant is grown strictly for its peculiar lack of foliage and ease of growth and maintenance. However, maintenance is really not all that easy once this plant attains some significant size. Without regular pruning, branches quickly outgrow the limb's ability to support them and large shrubs and trees are constantly dropping branches. Unfortunately these branches are very heavy and often damage other plants growing below. If not removed, these branches will often root and create another obnoxious shrub. Pruning these is not a simple task, either. Though the wood is fairly soft and easy to cut, the sap quickly gums up saws and clippers, and sap drips in large quantities all over the place. Avoiding contact with sap of this plant is very difficult, and just brushing up against it will often result in sap on clothing or skin. I have handled the sap of dozens of species of Euphorbia, but for some reason, this species seems to have particularly irritating sap.
Large tree in southern California (left) detail of 'branches' ( right photo DaylilySLP )
my own Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks of Fire' (left) and after windy weather (right). blowing over and losing limbs is a common problem with this species
Sticks of Fire form used in landscaping, for good contrast (left) unusually red (stressed) example of this plant for sale at a nursery (right)
flowers (left) and leaves (right) of this plant (Euphorbia tirucali) Sticks of Fire form. Leaves and flowers are usually only briefly visible seasonally.
Euphorbia leucadendron (Cat Tails Euphorbia) This species is becoming more widely available and sometimes can be picked up at garden outlet centers. For a Madagascan native, this plant is amazingly hardy and resilient, nearly equal to ease and durability as is Euphorbia tirucalli. This plant is a bit thicker and much slower to form a tree shape than Euphorbia tirucalli. I have yet to see one actually grow into a tree in Southern California, but seen several photos of fairly large trees growing in Africa and Madagascar. Here in California it usually forms a huge shrubby mass. This is a neater, more upright plant than Euphorbia tirucalli with few branches that grow laterally at all. This one often is leafy (though very tiny leaves at near the growing tips) and it also has some relatively large stoma or pores that give it a somewhat speckled appearance. Like Euphorbia tirucalli, this is an extremely easy Euphorbia to root, and cuttings seem to take no matter how quickly I shove them into the ground (no time needed for a "cure" as is the case with many succulents). I think part of this easy root and lack of rotting behavior when freshly cut ends are stuck into soil is due to the massive quantities of sap this plant pours out when it's cut. The sap quickly seals and protects the cut surface makng subsequent fungal growth less likely.
Euphorbia leucadendron growing in the Los Angeles Arboretum (left) flowering and fruiting (right)
showing some leaf formation, if briefly (left) Flowering Euphorbia leucadendron (right)
Close up of stems and fruiting bodies (left) Cuttings off my own plant (needs to be hacked back regularly)- right
Euphorbia antisyphillitica (Candelilla) This distantly related species is a North American native and though rarely referred to as a Pencil Cactus, is more pencil-like in diameter than either of the other two Euphorbias mentioned so far. This plant is also called the wax plant due to its thick coating of wax (called Candelilla wax, from which candles are often made, as well as waterproofing lotions, lipstick, facial creams, gum and floor polish etc.) Historically it has been used in the treatment of syphilis hence the name. I find this a very easy plant to grow and it has moderate cold tolerance (at least compared to the above two species), down to the low 20F without any damage. It is a suckering species, not really a branching one, and only grows a few feet tall, forming a thick colony of pale blue-grey flexible pencil-like stems (no leaves on this one). Seasonally it is covered with attractive but tiny pink and white flowers. It is another non-fussy Euphorbia I find particularly difficult to over or under water. However, under conditions of extremely low water (or severe root binding), it tends to get floppy and grow less upright.
Euphorbia antisyphillitica ( both photos Xenomorf )
flowers and fruits
My own plant in pot going nuts
Below are other species of 'Stick Euphorbias' that I have seen growing around southern California, and a few others have photographed in Arizona
Euphorbia aphylla (in flower on right) is another leafless species. aphylla means no leaves. This is a shorter species only growing a few feet tall
flowers and fruits of Euphorbia aphylla
Euphorbia kamponii is another great "stick" Euphorbia from Madagascar, and one I have grown in my garden (but eventually let it rot. not quite as easy as the above species). Left is photo of plant in southern California, and right is large tree in Thailand next to Kampon Tansacha, who the species was named after
Euphorbia mauritanica, a South African native, growing in southern California (left) and flower of this plant (right)
Euphorbia schimperi is an Arabian 'Pencil Cactus' (left) here growing in southern California flowers of Euphorbia schimperi (right)
Euphorbia onoclada in my yard- still a young plant, but hardy (so far)
Euphorbia gregaria, a South African species, at the Huntington Gardens
not really the classic Pencil Cactus, these dead looking Madagascan plants are Euphorbia platyclada (more like flattened sticks, than pencils) in southern California
two species photographed in Arizona (by Xenomorf): left is Euphorbia dregeana, a South African native and right is Euphorbia lomelii, a native to the Sonoran desert in Baja California.
Another Arizona-grown plant (by Xenomorf), Euphorbia rhombifolia, another South African species. It seems the incredibly hot, dry weather in Arizona agrees with nearly all of the Stick Euphorbias
two greenhouse plants in Huntington Gardens, California: left is Euphorbia arbuscula (Socotra native) and right is Euphorbia cryptospinosa
These two Euphorbias are somewhat caudex-forming and are very short, leafless species, and not really that pencil-like, but I include them here anyway. Left is Euphorbia gariepina and right Euphorbia lignosa
Euphorbia weberbaueri (left) native to Peru Euphorbia spinosa ( right photo CactusJordi ) from the Mediterranean regions
Euphorbia Species, Pencil Cactus, Milk Bush, Pencil Euphorbia, Rubber Hedge Euphorbia
|Family:||Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee) (Info)|
|Genus:||Euphorbia (yoo-FOR-bee-uh) (Info)|
|Species:||tirucalli (tee-roo-KAL-ee) (Info)|
Tropicals and Tender Perennials
Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Where to Grow:
Can be grown as an annual
Suitable for growing in containers
All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested
Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction
Soil pH requirements:
From herbaceous stem cuttings
Allow cut surface to callous over before planting
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Desert Hot Springs, California
San Diego, California(3 reports)
VALLEY VILLAGE, California
Green Cove Springs, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida(2 reports)
Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Lakeland, Florida(2 reports)
Sarasota, Florida(2 reports)
On Jun 1, 2016, Lkuhlman from Placentia, CA wrote:
Plant can be stunning when it diplays its full array of stem coloration (green, yellow, hot pink, red) which is influenced by its growing conditions. Extremely easy to propagate. stick a cutting in some soil in a pot of any size and ignore it. Have a number of cuttings grow 2 ft tall in 3in pots that get minimal consistent moisture. Definitely be careful around the white latex sap, it's nasty. It is a desert plant that will throw a lot of green growth when it receives regular watering.
On Jan 23, 2015, poeciliopsis from Phoenix, AZ wrote:
Central Phoenix -- There are some large shrub/tree size Euphorbia tirucalli in central Phoenix (at least one at the Heard Museum), but my home is in a cold air drainage making it a marginal plant here. I had one that got to 6 feet before being killed by frost in 2009. A second one was killed by frost in 2013, despite cover. A E. tirucalli firesticks was also killed by frost. I gave up and replaced it with a Euphorbia xantii (Baja spurge).
On Sep 23, 2014, RJohnson95 from Fort Myers, FL wrote:
This unusual plant does contain that lovely sap that can cause major scarring. When trimming it (because in SW Fl, they get monstrous) always wear protective clothing. I have had several of these plants (most were clippings from neighbors) and in a short time they grew into giants and seemed to take over everything.
On Oct 7, 2013, DracoVolans from Crestline, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:
To 1Firestick: DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT USE THE SAP AS A 'CANCER CURE!' Whoever told you this or wherever you found it is full of beans. This is a EUPHORBIA, the latex-sap of which is well-known for being a nasty irritant/allergen for many people. It is a HAZARD, not a medicine. One person far below has even mentioned a study where it can actually ENCOURAGE cancer-growth! NOT a good idea to try it as a cancer-remedy.
That said, I like my little Pencil cactus. I got it as a cutting from a DG member here and it's been growing slowly, but steadily. Perhaps I have it too-low a light. I've moved closer to my NE-facing picture-windows in the hopes it will do better. It's also been in the same little pot for two years, so maybe a re-potting will encourage some action. >^_. read more _^
On Jun 25, 2013, 1firestick from Weaverville, CA wrote:
Has anyone used the sap of this plant for skin cancer or pre skin cancer?
On May 22, 2013, MassWarren from Desert Hot Springs, CA wrote:
I have a Pencil Bush that was around 2 ft high, near my front walk when I moved in 25 years ago. I transplanted it to a far corner of the yard near some Oleanders and an African Pepper Tree. and mostly ignored it for 25 years. But I've always loved its unique shape it is now around 12 feet tall. It has survived high winds and some light frosts. From time to time some stems will turn brown and dry up, becoming very brittle and easy to break off (the only type of pruning I've done). A number of limbs were recently cut or broken off by street crews where they had hung over the front fence.
I saved one (about 4 feet long) and intend to propagate from it. I didn't know it would irritate the skin or be poisonous until I looked it up here ju. read more st now. I've always handled it with bare hands but will use gloves in the future. I think it is a great ornamental evergreen plant (especially in the desert).
On Aug 28, 2012, Nefitara from Port Richey, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:
I would have gave this plant a positive rating, but due to the sap I gave it a neutral. I have 2 of these plants, both in pots. From what I've seen so far is that they do have sap that burns the skin. although for me, it's not as bad as everyone else. I do trim it about every 2 months and yes. they do grow very quickly, but with all that said, they are beautiful plants overall. I would suggest leaving them in pots, starting with a decent size pot so you don't have to re-pot so quickly. Just wear gloves and/or wash your hands with soap (very good) after handling! DO NOT touch your eyes at all, even if you think your hands are clean of sap! ouchie!!
On Aug 6, 2012, AdamBeaumontCa from Beaumont, CA wrote:
We live in a Zone 9 environment. We grow this plant in a large container which has helped keep growth under control with an occassional pruning. A word of extreme caution. Becareful during and after pruning. The sap from the cactus is extremely irriating to skin and mucous membranes. My wife trimmed a branch off last week and this morning she was rotating the pot when she caught a dripping from the oozing severed branch in her eye. After flushing with water for 30 mins and a trip to the Emergency Room, she still has extreme pain that could last up to 8 weeks according to poison control.
On Feb 19, 2011, wimmer from Santa Rosa, CA wrote:
Thank you to all the gardeners who took the time to post their experiences with this plant. I have two of them: one is the green variety and the second is the red-orange variety. I live in Santa Rosa, CA, and both plants are kept outdoors in terra cotta pots from spring through autumn. The green variety, called a pencil plant, is a fast grower and I had difficulty hauling it into the house for the winter. I decided to leave both plants out doors which was decidedly disagreeable for the pencil plant. Although it was protected from frost, the cold temperatures caused it to drop its stems. It is now a third of its summer size. The remaining trunk and stems appear healthy, so, I'm hopeful it will recover. The orange-red plant, called 'fire-sticks', did fairly well with the cold tempe. read more ratures. Any suggestions how to prune the pencil plant when it returns to health? Thanks
On Jan 7, 2011, tvksi from Paris, TX (Zone 7b) wrote:
Back in 1981-2 I saw my first PT. It was in a corridor of the church and looked totally dried out, and no leaves. Thought it was dieing. Care taker had died and no one took over, so I did and watered it each week. Took a slip from it and it busted out with tiny leaves and grew to a really interesting speciman! My grown children thought I was a bit balmy using it for a focal point on a walkway. In time, however , it really grew on them and thanks Heaven for that, because I had to get a new start from them when mine gave it up to a freek frost. Now they are also wanting the *red Fire sticks! Love that plant. Am respectful of its toxisity but Figure if we failed to enjoy all the ones that are toxic, we'd be missing out on many enjoyments.
On Jul 18, 2010, Suzecav from Hyde Park, NY wrote:
I have had a medium sized houseplant version of this specimen for several years and use it for my Ikebana arrangements. When brushing near it, pruning or cutting stems for use, I *always* have wet paper towel for surfaces and tools, a plastic container of water for the stems (which go RIGHT in until the milky sap stops) and wear gloves when working with it. It has once dropped a drip of sap on my wood shelf it was extremely hard to remove three minutes later. So, fast is better when dealing with getting the sap off of you, your things and your tools. Other than that, it is an amazing addition to the room in which it is housed, growing nicely and needing water about every ten days (a good soaking at that point).
On Jun 19, 2010, melindarella from Corpus Christi, TX wrote:
I love this plant and have success growing it indoors and outdoors. I use cactus soil as my growing medium. I also had a sap incident but I took benadryl and was fine. I do however treat this plant with kid gloves being very careful to not expose myself to the sap. It is just such an unusual plant it is worth the extra trouble. It also is extremely hardy and will tolerate high heat and direct sun which make it an easy plant for South Texas.
On Apr 11, 2010, nomosno from San Diego, CA (Zone 10b) wrote:
This is a striking looking plant but the sap and top-heaviness issues make it less than unending fun. I had one here in San Diego that fell over three times, the last time decapitating a ponytail agave, after which I decided to get rid of it (I don't like to kill plants unless I really hate them so I replanted it in a canyon.)
BTW I have to disagree with the hardiness report of 9a. I lived in NYC before and had this plant in a pot, the first overnite frost, barely below freezing, killed it when I forgot to bring it in.
On Dec 27, 2008, Kttrost from Palm Springs, CA wrote:
I inherited this plant when we moved into our house. I love the look of it. In the last year it seems to have become top heavy. Is there any way to correct this? Should I top it? It is potted and outdoors.
On Dec 21, 2008, Malus2006 from Coon Rapids, MN (Zone 4a) wrote:
This plant is very tough for inside a house - the only problem is the sap and the fact that I notice no one metioned below - it is very hard to prune - it have a tough woody interior and the sap gums up the pruning tools.
On Aug 27, 2008, Kalpavriksha from Sarasota, FL wrote:
Get rid of these, quickly! In the book: Edible Leaves of the Tropics, 3rd ed. by Franklin W. Martin, Ruth M. Ruberte, & Laura S. Meitzner p. 85, it says, "This plant also poisons the soil by release of a carcinogenic substance taken up by edible plants."
In Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean by David W. Nellis p. 172, it says, "The diterpenoids have shown activity as tumor promoters (cocarcinogens)."
"Recent research has linked the high incidence of Burkitt's lymphoma in parts of Africa to carriers of the Epstein-Barr virus, which has been activated by exposure to the tumor-promoting 4-deoxyphorbol found in the latex of this plant. The relevance of this epidemiological finding to our industrialized world is that the Epstein-Barr virus has been linked. read more to infectious mononucleosis. If you have had mononucleosis, you probably should not mess with this plant!"
Sorry to rain on everybody's parade!
On Jun 18, 2008, sandiegojames from San Diego, CA wrote:
I'm generally of the "no bad plants, only bad gardeners" slant, but this is one plant that must be considered seriously before you grow it, particularly if you let it loose in the ground. I've seen enormous "trees" of it in West Hollywood, probably 25 feet tall and 40 wide. A cute little cutting can grow into a small monster before you know it--my experience. The roots grow vigorously and can knock over walls. The burning sap is also an issue.
The green trunk with little pencil leaves is a striking presence, for sure. But it doth get out of control easily. The red, "Sticks of Fire," clone is much better behaved, size-wise, and at least as satisfying a plant.
On May 15, 2008, rntx22 from Puyallup, WA (Zone 8b) wrote:
I love these "pencil cactus". Of course, I have not run in to any of the sap issues yet. They do get heavy and need to be staked. Ours survived the freak snow on Christmas in 2005 just fine. Lost a few limbs, but it didn't stay cold for very long so the plant bounced right back.
Edited to add: It snowed here again recently, and the pencil is turning orange. It's kind of pretty, even though it's probably a sign of damage.
On Feb 25, 2007, flmjr from Peoria, AZ wrote:
I am in Peoria, Arizona. There are about twenty of these pencil cactus plants around the yard. In January we had a short cold snap with over night tempuratures in the 27 to 30 degree range. The stems have all turned white and the they are falling off of the branches. The bark is discolored in places. I am wondering if the pencil cacti will come back or are they gone. If anyone has some experience, I would appreciate sharing.
On Aug 26, 2006, tweety5o from Tampa, FL wrote:
I just aquired this plant, and while handling it I did not know of it's toxic sap. That's ok, I'll heal. It truely is beautiful. I recommend planting it in a pot for better control. I was told by it's former owner that it was thriving in sand and it can be kept inside.
On Mar 13, 2006, sjbrower from Jacksonville Beach, FL wrote:
I've had this plant for about 10 years now. We've always referred to these as "Pencil Cactus". It was given to me by a friend, and I had it in a small pot for a long time. About 2 years ago, I transplanted it to a larger pot. it seemed to like the room and really took off! It is about 5 feet tall now, and very healthy. I take the warnings about the sap very seriously and keep this plant away from where people would pass by, but enjoy the interesting shape and look of this plant.
On Nov 1, 2005, vossner from East Texas,
United States (Zone 8a) wrote:
I have grown mine in a 15 gal pot for several years, trained as a standard. Trunk is about 1" thick. Pruning can be messy because of the sap running all over the place. Fortunately for me it has never bothered me, but reading that it's an irritant, I will be more careful in the future.
On Oct 31, 2005, jrbrucejr from Los Angeles, CA (Zone 10b) wrote:
Recently relocated to the Los Angeles area, Silver Lake neighborhood, about 5 miles NE of downtown. Our new property has several large specimens, which exhibit many of the same characteristics others have described. 2 days ago, I "pruned" a large limb, 4-5 ft, and replanted it as a new small tree, and experienced first hand the caustic nature of the sap. I knew that it was sticky, and had heard to be careful. I allowed multiple drops to remain on my skin for 3-4 hours while working in the yard and ended up with rash and blisters on each spot. I also rubbed an eye, due to dust, and fortunately only had severe burning for a couple of hours. The blisters are mostly healed today. The plant grows well, transplants easily, looks cool, but BE CAREFUL. That sap is really Bad.
On Sep 22, 2005, BayAreaTropics from Hayward, CA wrote:
Surprisingly fast grower outdoors in cooler Bay Area. Like most "desert" plants, Euphorbias enjoy more summer water than you would think, and respond with lusher growth.
Since its sap seems to be a problem, avoid and prevent it staining itself from drip marks, by spraying with water as you prune.The water also stops the bleeding of the plant. A very simple solution to enjoy a great exotic plant. Update 2007
The 2007 freeze showed this plant to not be very cold tolerant. Massive damage from a week of near freezing temps. Mid twenties would certainly kill it.
On Nov 11, 2004, KactusKathi from Goodyear, AZ (Zone 9a) wrote:
I have found this plant to be a welcomed addition to my garden. Even though the sap can be harmful if you take the time to cover the wounds with loose soil you will find that the sap stops flowing in no time and thus will not touch your skin.
I have gone so far as to trim this plant for the Holidays with lights and Christmas balls!
On Jul 19, 2004, WalterT from San Diego, CA (Zone 10a) wrote:
This plant can cause more trouble than it is worth. What previous note-writers have said is true and shd be taken very seriously. I have 3 "trees" of this evil plant in my garden which I am gradually removing, but the darned things grow fast and I am going to have to speed up my work on them. I am leery of handling them due to last year having had skin and severe but not permanent eye trouble (intense burning lasting 5 hours despite repeated washing) caused by the sap when I first began cutting off branches. Believe me, I wld not consider growing this plant indoors - period. I wld not keep a rabid dog in my house or yard either. The idea of making a hedge using this plant sounds foolhardy to me. WalterT.
On Jul 18, 2004, Monocromatico from Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil (Zone 11) wrote:
This plant can be propagated very easily by cuttings. In fact, almost any bits of it, when reaching the ground, can root and become another shrub. It also grows very fast, and almost nothing can cause harm to it.
It becomes a dense shrub, perfect for hedges, genuine living fences. Unlike other hedge plants, it has no spines or sharp branches, but a very, very toxic sap. It can cause skin burns and irritation to the most sensitive skins, can cause irreversible damage to the eyes, not to mention that it can be an extremely dangerous poison if ingested. The plant become dangerous as it grows, because the branches stay fragile, and tend to fall off under its own weight, liberating the sap over whoever stands close to it.
However, this dangerous sap is being resear. read more ched for its medicinal properties. It is said to be a multiple role remedy against amny deseases, like cancer, and so laboratories are rushing to find a way to use this plant to cure these deseased without causing damages to the organism.
On Jul 17, 2004, CatskillKarma from West Kill, NY wrote:
About 30 years ago, my aunt picked a piece of this up from the floor of a greenhouse at the Bronx botanical garden. Since then my aunt, my mother, and all the cousins have grown multiples as houseplants. Any little piece stuck in ordinary potting soil sprouts and gets enormous quickly, impervious to abuse. I've never seen it for sale anywhere, though.
On Jul 15, 2004, chel97 from Joliet, IL wrote:
I've owned one of these for 5 years, grown from a neighbor's cutting. Makes a great houseplant in a large terra cotta pot!
On May 29, 2004, sparkysmom from San Diego, CA wrote:
We had a huge (30- by 15-foot) tree removed from our backyard on the recommendation of a friend. We were told the white sticky sap burns your skin, and getting it in your eyes can cause temporary blindness (2-3 days). I had gotten some on my arm a few months earlier, and the area looked and felt like a bad sunburn. After several phone calls, we were only able to find one tree removal service who would remove the tree. The others declined the business due to the "burning sap" issues.
On Aug 15, 2003, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:
Though these can make great looking specimen trees in Southern California, they are often trouble in the garden. They get huge in no time (had 1' tall plant become a 100lb+ monster in 5 years) and then they start to break and fall apart in high winds, collapsing on surrounding vegetation. They need to be pruned regularly. And THAT's no fun, either. Being a Euphorbia, they are full of that nasty, sticky sap. It gets all over you, and just brushing up against it will break or damage the delicate tissues causing seepage of that irritating substance. It gets on clothes and is very hard to get out. It gets all over your skin and is somewhat irritation ( note that there is a huge variation in how this sap affects people. many are only mildly irritated by it, like me, but some people react. read more severely to the sap, like my friend, and get blisters from it). But the worst part is it gets all over your hands and should you rub your eyes accidentally (OUCH!!- i did, several times)- that will be an experience you won't soon forget.
This is a super easy plant to propagate here in southern California just take any larger cutting (or 'falling') and stuff it in the ground.
Before I tired of this plant I would do that all the time, in either a pot or somewhere else in the yard and, so far, have not had an unsuccessful regrowth of a pencil tree. Now I have yanked them all out (or sawed the larger ones down). I have a friend that also has several of these and his soil is very soft/sandy. The entire trees will sometimes topple over in his soil squishing all the surrounding plants. Now he is trying to dig his up, too. So careful about adding this plant to your collection, unless you can plant if far from traffic and support it against a wall or by some other means.
I am very suspicious about the reported cold hardiness of this plant above. reports of damage to it in cooler climates at freezing suggest that though it could tolerate a real cold snap in a warm climate, I seriously doubt it could survive for very long outside zone 9a or maybe 8b planted as an outdoor plant (for example they cannot get this plant to survive even the mildest climates in England)
On Mar 9, 2003, look from South English, IA wrote:
I've had the pleasure of owning a "Pencil Tree" now for nine years. I began with a 3 1/2" cutting, and have grown eight cuttings successfully into shrubs/bushes with the following method, outside in regular yard soil. (Located in southeastern Iowa)
Keep cutting(s) in shade to morning light, (moist) regular potting soil, feed every 3 weeks with Miracle-Gro (water-soluble fertilizer) for 2 years. Do not change soil for 3 to 5 years, keep soil damp. After five years, move to a larger pot that the shrub will be in for the next 5 or so years, reduce amount of watering to one soaking per week for the first 2 months, then every two weeks. Continue feeding with Miracle-Gro once a month year-round after that.
Move to the full sun (may show signs of shock initially,. read more but will pull it's strength from the sun and it will be over 10 ft. tall in less than nine years. I have only seen 4 (tiny brown flowers) on an outside start in nine years.