Succulents

Guide to Coral Cactus: How to Plant & Care for “Euphorbia Lactea”

Read our complete guide to Euphorbia Lactea Succulents for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting and caring for the "Coral Cactus"
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If you’re looking to add an easy-to-care-for plant to your indoor or outdoor garden, you might want to consider Coral Cactus or Euphorbia Lactea.

A species of succulent, it can grow to more than 16 feet tall when planted in the ground outdoors and 2 feet when planted in a container; the size of a shrub or a small tree.

Featuring an erect stem with several branches with greenish outer edges and a whitish center with sharp thorn-like protrusions that are black in color, the Euphorbia Lactea offers an eye-catching appearance that would add drama to any outdoor flowerbed or indoor container garden.

Other names for Euphorbia Lactea include “Coral Cactus”, “mottled spurge”, dragon bones tree” (which is quite apt, considering its appearance), “false cactus”, and “frilled fan”.

Whatever you call it, this unusual plant is sure to make a bold statement, wherever you plant it. If your curiosity is piqued, read on to learn more about proper planting and care instructions for Euphorbia Lactea.

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About Euphorbia Lactea

Native to tropical regions of Asia, Euphorbia Lactea is a form of spurge. In its native setting, it grown as an outdoor ornamental plant; however, it can also be grown as a houseplant in temperate regions.

Easy to grow and quite unusual looking, mottled spurge will create a stunning display when featured as a part of your landscape or inside your home.

As mentioned, Euphorbia Lactea is succulent shrub or small tree. It can grow as tall as 16 feet and it features several branches that can reach a thickness of about 2 inches.

The branches of the shrub feature several cross-sections, which are covered with spine-like growths.

The spiny portions of the plant measure about ½ inch thick, and overtime, they start to develop small-sized leaves. The end portions of each individual section on the plant, as well as the leaves, are reddish in color. Leaves of the plant are small and deciduous, meaning that they fall and regrow each year; however, not all plants produce leaves.

The size a fully grown Euphorbia Lactea varies. When planted in the ground and gown in optimal conditions, mottled spurge can reach heights of up to 16 feet or more. When grown in a container, it can reach heights of 2 feet.

In terms of blooms and fragrance, the mottled spurge only produces a minimal amount of flowers, if at all. Even flowering Euphorbia Lactea, however, does not produce a fragrance. Though it does not consistently produce flowers and there is no fragrance, the leaves and stems of mottled spurge do offer a showy appearance.

Euphorbia lactea Cristata, From Amazon

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Euphorbia Lactea Features: An Overview

A basic overview of mottled spurge is as follows:

  • Can grow in full sun to partial shade
  • If offered enough light, it can be successfully grown indoors
  • Requires dense amount of water in small doses.
  • Can grow up to 16 feet tall outdoors and 2 feet high in a container
  • Can grow as much as 24 inches or 2 feet wide
  • It is not a cold-hardy plant
  • Grafting can be used for propagation

All features of the Euphorbia Lactea – from the leaves to the thorns – naturally produce a latex-like substance that is milky in consistency and may be poisonous to people and animals.

Euphorbia Lactea Growing Tips

If you’re interested in growing Euphorbia Lactea, let’s take a look at some tips that can lead to growing success.

Where to Plant Euphorbia Lactea

While mottled spurge can tolerate temperatures that fall to 30 degrees, it can only tolerate such temperatures for a very short period of time.

If you live in a location where the temperatures are warm year-round, this succulent shrub can be planted outdoors.

If you live in a region where the temperature falls to 30 degrees or lower, growing it in a container that can be brought indoors when the cold season arrives or leaving it indoors year-round is recommended.

Euphorbia Lactea, like all succulents, requires large amounts of sunlight; however, it should not be exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time, as harsh UV rays – especially during the high heat of the day – can damage the leaves and branches.

Therefore, if you are planting it outdoors, choose location that receives partial sun to partial shade. If you are planting it indoors, select a room that receives ample amounts of sunlight; in locations in the Northern Hemisphere, for example, a south-facing window would be idea.

If planting in a container, make sure to choose a container that features a drainage hole. Euphorbia Lactea can suffer from root rot or can drown if it sits in large amounts of water for long periods of time.

Euphorbia Lactea
A close up of the interesting Euphorbia Lactea

Soil Considerations

Like all succulents, Euphorbia Lactea needs to be planted in quick-draining soil; just like the soil that it grows in its native environment.

Therefore, whether planting it in a container or in the ground, manufactured succulent or cactus soil should be used. Alternatively, you could make your own substrate by mixing together standard potting soil, perlite, and coarse sand.

Hoffman Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix, Is our Go-to Soil Mix

Propagation

Mottled spurge can be grown from seed or can be propagated from mature plants. However, do note that both methods can be difficult. The seeds can be hard to find and if you can locate them, germinating the seeds is often difficult.

Furthermore, growing from cuttings can also be challenging, as the plant produces a milky-white sap-like substance that can be toxic in nature to some people, as well as to animals.

With that said, if you would like to establish your own mottled spurge, your best bet would be to purchase an established plant and propagate it.

The best time to propagate is during the summer season, when the plant is actively growing. Because the plant does feature toxic latex sap that can be irritating when exposed to, make sure to take proper precautions and wear a pair of goggles and gloves before handling.

  • Propagation should take place from a healthy root stock on the plant.
  • Use a sharp, sterile knife to cut a “V” into the upper portion of the plant.
  • Carefully trim off the stem of the succulent shrub where the stem connects to the branch. Once removed, use cold water to wash the sap away and then dip the cutting into commercially manufactured rooting hormone powder.
  • Set the powder-covered cutting aside until the end callouses over; usually, this will take about a week.
  • Once calloused-over, set the cutting so that it is in an upright position in well-draining soil; mist the surface of the cutting and wait until it takes root in the soil.
  • To speed up rooting, set the cutting in a warm location, as roots establish more rapidly in warm settings. Generally, it takes a few weeks for rooting to be complete.
How to Propagate Succulents
How to Propagate Succulents

Repotting

Whether you have purchased an established Euphorbia Lactea from nursery or you have propagated your own plant, it’s important to properly repot it.

Remember, this succulent can grow rather tall, so it needs space so that the roots can spread out.

Fill a container that features a drainage hole with pre-made succulent soil, or a substrate that you have mixed yourself. Thoroughly wet the soil and dig a hole in the center of it.

Carefully remove the succulent from its existing container. Remove as much soil from the base of the plant to expose the roots. Carefully inspect the roots to check for any damage or rot; remove any roots that appear to be problematic.

Set the base of the plant in the new container. Spread out the roots and cover them over with soil. Set the newly potted plant in a warm location that receives ample amounts of light.

Outdoor Planting

In warm climates, Euphorbia Lactea can be planted outdoors and in the ground. If you are planting it in the ground, make sure to choose a location that receives partial sun to partial shade. Remember: the soil needs to be well-draining.

Carefully remove the plant from its pot. Gently wipe away as much soil from the base as possible to expose the roots. Check for any damaged or rotted roots and remove them. Set the plant into the ground and cover with soil.

Euphorbia Lactea Care

While mottled spurge is relatively easy to care for, it does require some degree of care. Here’s a look at some basic care tips.

Watering

Like all forms of succulents, Euphorbia Lactea should be watered using a “soak and dry” technique. In other words, wait until the soil is completely dry and then give it a good soaking. Excessive watering can cause root rot and can drown the plant. In the summer, it may require more watering, and in the winter, less. Keeping an eye on the soil is the best way to determine when to water.

How to Water Succulents
How to Water Succulents: Complete Beginner’s Guide

Grooming

Other than removing spend flowers (if your plant grows flowers), Dragon Bones Tree does not require any grooming.

Pests and Insects

The Dragon Bones Tree does attract some species of pests and insects. If you notice this problem, wetting the plant can help to remove any pests and insects that may be inhabiting it. Alternatively, you can apply an insecticide soak to the soil; however, do not apply insecticide to the branches or stems of the plant itself.

Summing It Up

Euphorbia Lactea makes a dramatic statement, whether planted indoors or out. By using proper planting and care tips, you can enjoy this succulent shrub for years to come.

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Hollie Carter

Hollie is a life-long gardener, having started helping her Dad work on their yard when she was just 5. Since then she has gone on to develop a passion for growing vegetables & fruit in her garden. She has an affinity with nature and loves to share her knowledge gained over a lifetime with readers online. Hollie has written for a number of publications and is now the resident garden blogger here at GardenBeast. Contact her at hollie@gardenbeast.com or follow on twitter https://twitter.com/greenholliec

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