Euphorbia tirucalli is an attractive indoor ornamental tree. It can grow 30 feet tall in the wild, but the indoor plant rarely exceeds 5-6 feet. It is a tender, upright, tree-like succulent with fleshy, cylindrical, segmented, bright green stems bearing tiny, short-lived, linear to lance-shaped, bright green leaves and, in spring, clusters of inconspicuous, green flowers surrounded by prominent, light green bracts and are available in bright pink, red, white or yellow. The plant contains caustic and irritant chemicals in the latex which cause reactions with the skin, mucous membranes, and the eyes. Severe burning and inflammation result after the latex comes into contact with the skin. Ingestion causes burning and irritation of the mouth and stomach, accompanied by pain and perhaps diarrhea.It has been used in traditional medicine in many cultures for diseases ranging from tumors and warts to asthma, cough, earache, neuralgia, and rheumatism. It has been promoted as an anticancer agent, but research shows that it suppresses the immune system, promotes tumor growth, and leads to the development of certain types of cancer. Euphorbia tirucalli (pencil tree) has also been associated with Burkitt’s lymphoma and is thought to be a cofactor of the disease rather than a treatment.
Scientific Name: Euphorbia tirucalli
Common Names: Aveloz, Firestick plants, Indian tree spurge, naked lady, Pencil tree, Pencil cactus, Sticks on fire or milk
How to grow and maintain Euphorbia tirucalli:
The pencil tree plant will flourish in zones with partial sun, filtered sunlight and full sun. Keep your plant in front of a window facing east, south, or west.
It thrives best in a soil with excellent drainage. The Pencil Tree tolerates all types of soils with an ideal pH around 6.0 (slightly acidic). Utilize a basic potting soil mix for container grown Pencil Trees.
It prefers normal summer temperatures 18-21ºC / 65 -70ºF. In winter, it prefers cooler temperatures around 10ºC / 50ºF.
Water moderately, during the growing season. Allow the top 1 inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Reduce water in winter when the plant rests. Also, avoid getting water on the leaves and stems because they can rot if they get too wet.
Fertilize with a controlled-release fertilizer in the beginning of the season or weekly with a weak liquid solution. Utilize a balanced 20-20-20 compost at 1/4 strength on mature plants, and a manure with less nitrogen on young plants. In winter, feed monthly.
Pencil tree can be easily propagated by stem cuttings. After taking a cutting, dip it in fresh water to stop the flow of latex, then allow to dry for a week and form a callous before potting in moist sand or a cactus mix. During trimming and propagation, wear protective clothing to avoid getting the latex on your skin or in your eyes.
Prune the pencil tree when it gets too large and keeps it at the desired height. Always wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt when pruning the plant to prevent the irritating sap from getting on your skin.
Pests and Diseases:
The pencil tree isn’t troubled by many plant pests. It is very susceptible to root disease and somewhat susceptible to white fly.