Euphorbia Plants - The 10 Most Common Varieties and Grow & Care Guide

There are so many different types of Euphorbia, all looking very different from one another. From the famous X-mas plant to the cowboy cactus.

By: THURSD. | 30-11-2022 | 7 min read
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There are so many different Euphorbia plants, and they all look so different from one another. Euphorbia is an extensive genus of plants with more than 2,000 species. Also named Spurge. About 1,200 of them are succulents, some with bizarre shapes and sometimes with wide, fleshy leaves. And others that look remarkably like cacti, complete with spines. The most well-known Euphorbia is the Poinsettia, which is a very popular plant for the Christmas holiday. You can find these potted plants at florists and garden centers in shades of bright red during the holiday season.


The Euphorbia genus includes annual, perennial, and biennial species. You'll find herbaceous plants and woody shrub species as well as both deciduous and evergreen species. The linking characteristic among the species is the presence of a milky white sap in the plants which comes out of the plants when cut or damaged. This white poisonous sap is something that deer and rabbits don't like and is highly toxic and an irritant to the skin and eyes. All euphorbia are toxic to humans and are toxic to dogs and cats. The level of toxicity in the plant varies from species to species.


Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia Milii) 
Flower of the Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia Milii) 


Indoor and Outdoor

Euphorbia plants are wonderful complements to flower beds and rock gardens because of their colorful leaves and distinctive flower structures called cyathiums. As long as they receive the proper amount of light, euphorbias thrive as both indoor and outdoor plants.

Euphorbia Care

Euphorbias require relatively little maintenance. These plants need some care to get started, but once they do, they are remarkably self-sufficient. More Euphorbia plants perish from over-care, particularly overwatering, than from neglect. 


Picture by @deja_home


Soil and Watering

You must make sure your euphorbia has well-draining soil. Root rot because of wet soil can swiftly kill a plant. If your plant is being grown in a container, the container needs to have lots of drainage holes. It is ideal to use an unglazed pot because it will let excess moisture escape via its walls and drainage holes. Give your plant a lot of sunlight and water it frequently. But make sure the soil can dry in between. To prevent powdery mildew and other fungus issues on the foliage, avoid overhead watering. Pruning is typically only required to reduce overgrown plants to a manageable size.


Although some species can tolerate partial shade, euphorbia plants prefer full sun, which is defined as at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight on most days.


Most species can benefit from some afternoon shade in hot regions. When it comes to feeding your euphorbia plant, it depends on the species you have. While most will benefit from some fertilizing, it’s best to research the needs of your exact plant. Generally, those kept in pots tend to need more fertilizer than those planted in garden beds.


Although it is possible to cultivate euphorbias from seed, the seeds are challenging to germinate (or even find). Since new growth begins in the spring, this plant is often reproduced by stem cuttings, though it can also be done in the summer. Using a sharp, clean knife, take a tip cutting at least three inches long. Then allow the cut stem to dry and callous over at least overnight, or even better, for a couple of days. This will improve the success rate. Fill a four-inch pot with a seed-starting mix or cactus potting mix and dip the cutting in a rooting hormone before inserting it at least 1/3 of an inch into the soil. Once you feel resistance when you gently tug on the stem, it is ready to be planted in a larger container or in a garden bed.


Euphorbia Pulcherrima (Poinsettia)
Poinsettia (Euphorbia Pulcherrima)


Types of Euphorbia

There are so many different types of Euphorbia, all looking very different from one another. From the famous X-mas plant to the cowboy cactus. (And everything in between!)

1. Poinsettia (Euphorbia Pulcherrima)

This popular Christmastime plant can be bought in potted plants in brilliant red, pink, white, and some other colors at florists and garden retailers. The bracts, which are the colored leaves around the real flower, can also come in yellow, salmon, and greenish varieties, and are a real feature of poinsettias. With proper care, a poinsettia you receive as a gift can outlive your Christmas tree and bloom again the following winter. In the tropics, you can find this Euphorbia variety as trees, and thus, very big.


Euphorbia Pulcherrima Tree (Poinsettia)


2. Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia Milii) 

The Euphorbia Crown of thorns is also known as Christ plant or Christ thorn and is a low-maintenance, easily adaptable plant. It can thrive as an indoor plant or outdoors. Crown of thorn plants have green leaves and small, colorful flowers. This plant also has sharp, spiny stems and branches. Different cultivars offer red, pink, or yellow flowers that bloom repeatedly.


Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia Milii) 
Picture by Wikipedia


3. Donkey Tail Spurge (Euphorbia Myrsinites)

The Donkey-tail Spurge is an evergreen, succulent perennial. It makes sprawling or trailing stems of spiraling grey-blue leaves, with clusters of chartreuse-yellow flowers appearing through the spring months.


Euphorbia Myrsinites (Donkey Tail Spurge)


4. Baseball Euphorbia (Euphorbia Obesa)

The Obesa is a small symmetrical succulent, that stays nearly perfectly round with a round, ball-shaped stem that gradually becomes cylindrical as the plant ages. It is usually grown as a houseplant but can be grown outdoors in frost-free zones.


Baseball Euphorbia (Euphorbia Obesa)


5. Efanthia Wood Spurge (Euphorbia Amygdaloides ‘Efanthia’)

At maturity, Efanthia Wood Spurge reaches a height of 15 inches and a width of 18 inches. It usually has dense foliage that extends all the way to the ground, negating the need for facer plants in front. It has a medium rate of growth and, in perfect conditions, can expect to live for around 8 years.


Efanthia Wood Spurge (Euphorbia Amygdaloides ‘Efanthia’)


6. Cushion Spurge (Euphorbia Polychroma)

This semi-evergreen perennial will produce elliptical to oblong yellow-green leaves. The flowers are produced in cymes of yellow-green blooms from mid-spring to summer.


Cushion Spurge (Euphorbia polychroma)


7. African Milk Tree (Euphorbia Trigona)

The Euphorbia Trigona, or the African Milk Tree as it's commonly known, is a highly architectural and curious houseplant. Easy to look after, pest resistant and a fast grower means it makes the perfect specimen that adds interest to a sunny spot. There are two common varieties, the green one (see below), and the reddish one, called Euphorbia Trigona Rubra.


African Milk Tree (Euphorbia Trigona)
Picture by @planatalie


8. Cowboy Cactus (Euphorbia Ingens)

This Euphorbia is one of the most famous cacti in the world. The houseplant looks very similar to the cacti from classic western films, which is why it is also called the cowboy cactus. Actually, the Euphorbia is, of course, not a real cactus, it originates from Africa, where the cactus naturally has American roots.


Euphorbia  Ingens (Cowboy Cactus)
Picture by @urthsucculents


9. Euphorbia Lactea Cristata

A compact, evergreen, frost-tender succulent shrub on which the stem's growing point has mutated into a line or crest, so that the plant eventually forms a dome 90cm (3ft) high and 60cm (2ft) wide of ridged, undulating, reddish-green growth that resembles the appearance of brain coral. It is usually grafted onto the stem of another euphorbia species. Its slow growth, temperature requirements, and ornamental value make it a useful subject for a sunny window indoors.


Euphorbia Lactea Cristata
Picture by @zen01789


10. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia Tirucalli)

The Pencil Cactus, also commonly called milk bush due to its thick, white sap, is not a true cactus and photosynthesizes in its stems, not through the small leaves that appear at the end of its new growth (which are inconsequential to the plant’s health).


Euphorbia Tirucalli (Pencil Cactus)
Picture by Nieuwkoop-Europe



Common Pests & Diseases

Euphorbia plants typically don't have any issues. Few insects find euphorbias attractive because of the milky sap and the sharp needles. But watch out for a few critters. Pests that are most prevalent are mealybugs and spider mites, which will weaken and ultimately kill them. Both of these insects have a tremendous capacity for population growth. Therefore, your best chance of controlling them is to catch them early. Oils and soaps that kill insects are effective nontoxic treatments. Furthermore, when conditions are too damp, root rot and fungal infections might develop. Prior to using fungicides, make an effort to improve the conditions in which the plant is growing.

Pro Tip

When in doubt about your Euphorbia, let it drought! If the soil feels slightly moist and you are unsure whether or not to water, the safest bet is to wait and check back in a few days.




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