Devil’s Backbone (Euphorbia tithymaloides)

Devil’s Backbone (Euphorbia tithymaloides) - Succulent plants

Devil’s Backbone (Euphorbia tithymaloides) is perennial succulent spurge. This erect shrub can grow to 6 to 8 feet in height and generally is about 18 to 24 inches in width. The leaf is a simple angiosperm leaf, arranged oppositely on the stem. Each leaf is sessile (attaching directly to the plant), and about 3.6 to 7.6 cm in length. The leaves are glabrous (smooth) and acuminate in shape, with entire (smooth) edges. The veins in the leaves are pinnate. The plant terminates in a dichotomous cyme, with a peduncle supporting each flower. The floral leaves are bifid (split into two parts) and ovate, while the involucral bracts are bright red, irregularly acuminate in shape, and about 1.1 to 1.3 mm in length with a long, thin tube. The flower is void of scent. The male pedicel is hairy, while the female is glabrous. The seed pod is about 7.6 mm long and 8.9 mm wide, and ovoid in shape
(with truncated ends). The plant generally flowers in mid-spring.

Scientific Classification:

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Subfamily: Euphorbioideae
Tribe: Euphorbieae
Subtribe: Euphorbiinae
Genus: Euphorbia

Scientific Name: Euphorbia tithymaloides
Synonyms: Pedilanthus tithymaloides, Tithymalus tithymaloides.
Common Names: Devil’s Backbone, Redbird Flower, Buck Thorn, Cimora Misha, Christmas Candle, Fiddle Flower, Ipecacuahana, Jacob’s Ladder, Japanese Poinsettia, Jew’s Slipper, Jewbush, Milk Hedge, Myrtle-Leaved Spurge, Padus-Leaved Clipper Plant, Red Slipper Spurge, Redbird Cactus, Slipper Flower, Slipper Plant, Slipper Spurge, Timora Misha, Zig Zag Plant.

Devil’s Backbone (Euphorbia tithymaloides)

How to care and grow Devil’s Backbone (Euphorbia tithymaloides)?


It prefers full to partial sunlight. Provides good sunlight at least 3-5 hours of the day, and turn it regularly so that your plant doesn’t begin to grow lopsided.


It grows well in well-draining, gritty soil or cactus potting mix. They are not particular about soil pH, but they cannot tolerate wet soil.


You can allow the soil to dry out between each watering. Before watering the plant check underneath the pot through the drainage holes to see if the roots are dry. If so then add some water. Do not water too often to prevent overwatering, that can potentially kill it off.


It prefers an optimal temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit – 85 degrees Fahrenheit / 16 degrees Celsius to 29 degrees Celsius.


Fertilize every two weeks with a diluted balanced liquid fertilizer during its growing season in the spring and summer. Avoid fertilizing your plant during the fall and winter months.


It can be easily propagated by cuttings. Take cutting in spring, which needs to be dried out for a couple of weeks in shade before potting. This can be tricky, because of the exuding sap. Rooting hormone is recommended with Euphorbias. Also can be propagated from seed, but they can be difficult to germinate.

Pests and Diseases:

Euphorbia may be susceptible to mealybugs, scale insects, occasionally spider mites.

Advantages of Euphorbia tithymaloides:

  • The root is known to be a powerful emetic. A proteolytic enzyme known as pedilanthain can be extracted from the plant’s latex and has been shown in experiments to be effective against intestinal worms and to reduce inflammation when ingested.
  • In folk medicine, tea has been brewed from the leaves which have been used to treat asthma, persistent coughing, laryngitis, mouth ulcers, and venereal disease. Tea brewed from the root has been used as an abortifacient. The latex has been used topically to treat calluses, earache, insect stings, ringworm, skin cancer, toothache, umbilical hernias, and warts. None of these uses has been scientifically verified as effective. In the West Indies, a few drops of the latex is added to milk and used as an emetic.

Disadvantages of Euphorbia tithymaloides:

  • The roots, stems, and leaves of the plant are known to be toxic. These parts of the plant contain euphorbol (a complex terpene) and other diterpene esters. These are also known carcinogens. The plant’s leaves and stems also contain beta-sitosterol, cycloartenone, octacosanol, and oxime, all of which have known medicinal as well as toxic properties
  • If latex or root juice gets on the skin, the victim should immediately wash with soap and warm water.[18] If latex or juice gets in the eye, continuous rinsing with fresh water should be the first course of action. Topical steroids are indicated for skin or eye contact. Intravenous fluids are often administered to counteract fluid loss due to vomiting and diarrhea.

Last updated on September 29th, 2021

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