Euphorbia charachiasEuphorbias are fascinating plants not quite like any other.

They are a genus of shrubs, succulents, perennials and annuals, some of which can be evergreen or semi-evergreen. They are distinguished by their flower heads, containing multiple, uniquely structured flowers that lack the usual sepals and petals, and instead have cup shaped bracts (sometimes called Cyathium leaves), often lime green, and in the case of Euphorbia griffithii vivid orange to red.

Any plant with bracts is useful to garden designers, as bracts, being leaves, last a lot longer than petals, giving the impression of a long flowering season.

Other plants with colourful bracts include:

  • Cornus kousa,
  • Salvia sclarea (common name Clary),
  • Bougainvillea,
  • Davidia involucrata (common name Handkerchief Tree),
  • Hacquetia epipactis
  • Poinsettia, the houseplant widely sold at Christmas, which is actually part of the Euphorbia family (Euphorbia pulcherrima). It is native to Mexico and not hardy in this country.

Euphorbias for the garden

Euphorbia amygdaloides (wood spurge)Euphorbia amygdaloides (pictured right), has the common name of ‘wood spurge’, and is a very useful plant for shady spaces, with dark green fleshy shiny leaves, and lime green Cyathium leaves (,or bracts).

Euphorbia characias, (pictured at the top of the page), is an evergreen shrub that likes sun; in a sheltered position, if the weather is not too harsh, it will hold its flower stems through the winter. The stems are biennial, producing leaves the first year, and flowers the second year. Euphorbia characias subspecies wulfenii, is widely grown and has an RHS award of garden merit, and Euphorbia characias subsp. characias has deep maroon centres to is flowerheads.

Other Euphorbias useful in the garden include:

  • the rock plant Euphorbia myrsinites,
  • the perennial Euphorbia cyparissias,
  • the stiking orange flowered Euphorbia griffithii, (mentioned above).

Euphorbias as wild plants

Euphorbias also grow as wild plants: Euphorbia helioscopia (common name ‘Sun Spurge’), is a common weed on arable land and where there is dry bare earth in gardens, and the taller ‘Caper Spurge’, Euphorbia lathyris, with blue-green leaves, can sometimes be seen in gardens. Whether you weed it out, or like to keep it, is a question of taste.

Always wear gloves when handling Euphorbias, as the sap can irritate your skin, and the plants can cause stomach upsets if ingested.

This is part of a “Plant of the Week” series of blogs I am writing this spring.

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