Euphorbia a Perfect Plant or “She Devil”?
Growers clearly think euphorbia (spurge) is a perfect plant – Blooming Nursery, a local grower, shows over 50 varieties in their on line catalog. Many varieties have come along in the last ten years.
What is Euphorbia?
It is a low maintenance shrub or ground cover. Most varieties prefer sun and well-drained soil making them perfect for a SW facing landscape. They provide a lot of color and they are very unusual looking. The flower itself looks like a fat column filled with whorls of petals. The flowers are actually tiny little leaf bracts in contrasting colors. People will say to me, “Oh you know, it looks like it came from Mars.” Regardless of its peculiar look, people like the fact that most are very low water and they can enjoy six weeks or more of flower color in the hot sun.
If it’s such a great plant why did I call it a “She Devil”?
- A kind of latex sap exudes from every injury or cut to a leaf, stem or flower and can be a skin irritant. Get some in your eye and you’ll call it a worse thing than a she devil. For this reason, I never use it in a parking strip and I make sure the client knows about the potential problem before I use it in a design. The sap does not affect me, but I know people who have gotten rashes, extreme but temporary eye pain. I have read that if ingested it will cause extreme stomach discomfort and should not be included in dog friendly landscaping. I don’t know anyone who has eaten any of it but this plant probably should not be in a yard with children, a puppy or a goofy dog who lacks common dog sense. A local pub ran into legal trouble when someone’s child came in contact with a Euphorbia. Since each person has their own sensitivity, no one can say whether a plant will cause an individual discomfort but Euphorbia is well known for causing skin irritation. Here is the local pub article.
- All varieties of Euphorbia seed around. Some are prolific, some are not but they all seed. It is not a no maintenance plant but it is a low maintenance plant. The varieties I use must be deadheaded, usually in early June to prevent seeding around and to ensure the plant will be a handsome devil for winter. If the flowering stems are not removed to the ground, the shape for winter will be ugly and to me rather sad since it can be such a radiant winter shrub.
- Some varieties of Euphorbia (only one that I use) will spread by running root. I know that I only use it for dryish shade situations where it can spread. Others might plant it next to their hostas and discover in a few years that the hostas are no more.
Enough of the doom and gloom! Here are the plants that I enjoy using in gardens with consenting adults. There are so many varieties that I don’t even try to trial them all personally. I don’t use the plants that I have not trialed or that a person I know has trialed.
My Favorite Euphorbia List
Euphorbia amydgaloides ‘Mrs Robb’s Bonnet’ or just ‘Robb’s Spurge’.
I use it under fir trees with sword fern. I NEVER use it in mixed plantings or flowers beds, it will take over. I use it where I want a low water needs, shade tolerant ground cover (not deep shade). It should be fully contained by a path or root barrier. It’s a very useful and handsome plant if deadheaded properly.
Euphorbia characias ‘Humpty Dumpty’
It’s a perfect size unlike most Euphorbia varieties. I use this plant in south or west facing foundation plantings. My plant survived the cold at 900 feet for six years. It looked fantastic with it’s silver green foliage in the dead of January. It won’t look nice if you don’t deadhead it properly in June. Companions: Low 4” high heathers, coneflowers such as ‘Miss Kim’.
Variety grows to 24” x 24”. Flowers at 30” high.
Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii ‘John Tomlinson’
John is taller than ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and has more green blue than green silver foliage. Select California Lilac such as Ceanothus griseus ‘Kurt Zadnik’ as the background shrub for the most amazing color combination in early summer. The purple blue flowers of the California Lilac sizzle next to the chartreuse flowers of the Euphorbia. Variety grows to 36” x 36”.
Euphorbia x martinii ‘Rudolph’
Rudolph develops brilliant red new leaves in winter. The combo of blue green old leaves and the red hint in winter is why I like this compact variety. Blue fescue grass is a great companion, both for color and texture. Variety grows to 30″ x 30″.