How To Grow And Care For Euphorbia Lactea

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Euphorbia lactea [yoo-FOR-bee-uh, lak-TAY-uh] is a shrub with succulent branches reaching up to 16’ feet. 

Euphorbia lactea has many common names:

  • Dragon bones tree
  • Mottled spurge
  • Frilled fan
  • Candelabra spurge
  • Candelabra cactus
  • Candlestick tree
  • False cactus
Spiny Euphorbia Lactea aka Dragon Bones TreeSpiny Euphorbia Lactea aka Dragon Bones Tree

It’s a type of spurge, which is the common name for the Euphorbia plant genus and Euphorbiaceae family. 

As with other spurge plants, the Dragon Bones Tree is native to tropical parts of Asia, such as India.

In its native regions, it grows outdoors as an ornamental plant. 

In temperate regions, mottled spurge like its cousin the African Milk Tree (Euphorbia trigona) it is an easy-to-grow houseplant.

Euphorbia Lactea Care

Size and Growth

Euphorbia lactea is a shrub producing ridged succulent branches measuring about 2″ inches thick.

  • The branches feature multiple cross-sections covered in spiny growth. 
  • The spiny sections are only about a quarter-inch thick and eventually produce small leaves.
  • The ends of the individual sections and the leaves they produce are reddish.
  • The leaves are small and deciduous, dropping at the end of each year. 
  • In some cases, the plant doesn’t produce leaves at all.
  • When grown outdoors in ideal conditions, it may reach up to 16′ feet. 
  • When grown in a container, it rarely exceeds 2′ feet.

Flowering and Fragrance

Along with limited foliage, the plant produces insignificant flowers or no flowers or fragrance. 

It’s mostly grown for its interesting succulent branches.

Light and Temperature

Grow in full sun or partial shade in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 11. 

In cooler areas, grow lactea in a container and keep outdoors during the warmer months. 

Bring indoors before freezing temperatures set in.

Watering and Feeding

While Euphorbia lactea has succulent branches, it cannot tolerate long periods of drought. 

During the summer, it often needs weekly watering.

  • Check the soil a couple of times per week. 
  • If the top several inches of the soil is dry, the plant needs water.
  • Water deeply but don’t allow the roots to sit in soaked soil. 
  • If the water doesn’t drain well, add organic matter or peat moss to the existing soil.

During the winter, it may not need watering at all. 

The typical recommendation is to water it thoroughly after bringing it indoors and then wait until the spring to resume watering.

Fertilizer is only needed for poor soil. 

Use the diluted fertilizer at 1/2 strength once per month during the spring and summer.

Soil and Transplanting

  • Grow in rich, well-drained soil. It also grows well in premade succulent or cactus potting soil.
  • Repot container plants every two or three years as needed to deal with the growing root system. 
  • Use the same type of soil when transplanting.
  • Always use a container weighing more than the plant. 
  • Euphorbia lactea can become top-heavy and may tip over without a stable pot.
  • Wear long-sleeved clothing and gloves when transplanting to avoid exposure to the poisonous sap in the branches.

Grooming

The Dragon Bones Tree doesn’t need grooming.

How to Propagate Dragon Bones Tree

Propagate by seed or cuttings. 

Unfortunately, cultivated Euphorbia lactea rarely flowers, so it requires the purchase of seeds.

Cuttings provide the easiest solution for propagation. 

  • Remember to wear gloves and long-sleeved clothing when taking cuttings as the sap should flow freely after the plant is cut into.
  • Take cuttings in the spring or summer during active growth. 
  • Use a sharp knife to cut off one of the stems where it connects to the branch.
  • Wash the sap away with cold water and then dip the cutting in rooting hormone powder
  • Allow it to dry for about one week to let the cut callous over.
  • Stick the cutting in the soil, placing it upright. 
  • Mist the surface and wait for the cutting to take root.

To encourage root growth, place the cutting in a small pot, and set on a heating mat. 

It establishes roots more quickly in warm conditions.

Dragon Bones Tree Pest or Diseases

Euphorbia lactea tends to attract several pests due to the milky latex substance found in the leaves.

Other concerns include toxicity and invasiveness. 

  • All parts of the plant contain low levels of toxins, which cause mild irritation if ingested. 
  • Children and small pets may experience more severe reactions, so keep them away from the plant.
  • The milky substance found in the plant may also cause general skin irritation. 
  • Wear gloves when handling the plant.
  • While some species of Euphorbia plants are invasive in certain regions, the Dragon Bones Tree isn’t listed as an invasive species in any part of North America. 
  • However, the stems and seeds can allow it to produce new growth if left unchecked.

Suggested Euphorbia Lactea Uses

Euphorbia lactea is a great houseplant. One sport or cultivar is Euphorbia lactea Cristata aka Coral Cactus with a created top that provides an interesting focal point for any room of the house. 

Grow in a large pot and keep away from pets and children.

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