In my new English-Spanish video, landscaper José Arias of Borrego Springs, CA explains and shows how to manage a beautiful succulent with toxic, milky sap: Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’.
En inglés y español, el paisajista José Arias de Borrego Springs, CA explica y muestra cómo podar y manipular árbol de los dedos, una hermosa suculenta que tiene una savia lechosa y tóxica.
About Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'
This South African succulent, sometimes called firesticks or pencil tree, originated as a sport (offshoot) of larger, solid-green Euphorbia tirucalli. Both are easy to grow in coastal areas of Southern California and Mexico where temperatures stay above 32 degrees. Over time plants get large---up to 15 feet tall.
Be careful pruning it
Like all euphorbias, 'Sticks on Fire' has a white, milky sap. The liquid can cause irritation of the skin and is especially painful and dangerous to the eyes. In the video, Sr. Arias tells how not knowing this sent him to the hospital. Obviously, you shouldn't plant it or any other euphorbia where children and pets play.
Wash your hands correctly
USE MECHANICS' HAND CLEANER. In the video, Sr. Arias advises washing with soap and water. Even better, according to a nursery owner friend, is the hand cleaner mechanics use. Euphorbia sap isn't water soluble, so you risk spreading it if you dilute it. But mechanics' hand cream contains a solvent that breaks down the sap. You can even apply it to globs that stick to clothes, before you launder them. One brand is GoJo (affiliate link).
How much should you cut?
It handles any amount of pruning. I've grown several in planter boxes for years. The same specimens in the ground would likely be huge by now, but I keep mine pruned to under 2 feet. You can see them in the background of my Top 7 No-Fail Succulents video:
What do do with cuttings
Carry them to the green waste bin by the dry branches, with raw ends facing away from you. Or use them to start new plants: Simply stick upright in coarse, friable soil that drains well.
Prune in summer or fall
Best time to trim euphorbias is during the dry season. After winter and spring rains, the plants may become engorged with sap that may squirt when limbs are cut.
Plan for drips
In my video, cuttings land on a dirt bank, so dripping sap doesn't matter. When I prune mine, I set cuttings on newspaper to catch milky puddles. Then I wrap the newspaper around the cuttings when I transport them. The latex sap doesn't damage hardscape, but it's sticky, and I don't want to track it into my house.
Note that when pruning Euphorbia tirucalli, Sr. Arias wears gloves, long sleeves and trousers (so sap doesn't get on his skin), plus sunglasses. Instead of short pruners, he uses long-handled "bypass loppers."
Why grow 'Sticks on Fire'?
It's colorful and practical. As far as I'm concerned, it's main downside is that it's frost-tender. Apart from occasional trimming (every three or four years), it needs no care at all. Here are seven examples.
Bottom Line: Follow José's simple tips on how to trim and manage Euphorbia tirucalli (arbol de los dedos), and it will be an enhancement to your landscape for years to come.
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