Cactii Succulents

Euphorbia Trigona Guide: How to Grow & Care for “African Milk Tree”

Read our guide to Euphorbia Trigona for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing & caring for the "African Milk" Tree
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Succulents are starting to become more and more widespread in people’s homes, where we can already see impressive collections or arrangements of these cute plants. Why is that? Simple! They are beautiful, particular, and interesting. But, more importantly, they are easy to grow and resilient!

This characteristic is very important if you travel a lot, you are very busy, or simply forget to water your plants. The good news is that if you care for them properly, these succulents will reward you with a special, relaxing view, and you’ll get plenty of compliments from your guests.

Euphorbia trigona, known as the African Milk Tree (because of the milky sap contained in the stems) is an easy-care indoor plant that comes from Africa. In its natural habitat, it grows in dense, thorny thickets. It has also adapted well to indoor spaces and grows healthy and happy in apartments all over the world.

Though it looks a lot like a cactus, it’s a succulent plant. Two different plant families are often mistaken one for the other: cacti (Cactaceae) and euphorbias. In fact, it is a common occurrence for people to call Euphorbia trigona a cactus without realizing there is a difference.

Both cacti and euphorbias store moisture in swollen stems, both tend to be spiny and both include a variety of species of all different shapes. They are so similar in many characteristics that confusion is explicable.

Euphorbia trigona has many folk names, including friendship cactus, good luck plant, or good luck cactus (the good luck attribution might have something to do with the color green which is often associated with fortune), candelabra cactus, and cathedral cactus.

Euphorbia Trigona
Euphorbia Trigona

About African Milk Tree

  • Outdoors, these big succulents look like trees. They can grow as high as nine feet (2.7 m), in a characteristic “candelabra” shape that gives them the appearance of a sapling.
  • The Trigona is a distinctive plant due to its leaves that grow along the edges of the upright stems. The thorns grow in sets of two, and single leaves emerge from their center.
  • The plant may bloom, producing small white or yellow flowers, when it grows outdoors.
  • The Euphorbia Trigona can essentially be treated as a cactus and is a large, branching specimen that is a perfect statement plant for any home.
  • The African Milk Tree is a member of the genus Euphorbia and part of the Euphorbiaceae family. All of these plants exude a white sap when cut or broken. This is a sticky latex, often toxic or irritating to the skin (most cacti have clear sap, rarely irritating to the skin).
  • Its sap can cause serious skin and eye irritation on contact, as well as severe gastric distress if ingested. For this reason, keep them out of the reach of children and pets. Keep your eyes and skin well-protected when handling the euphorbia trigona.
African Milk Tree
African Milk Tree

African Milk Tree Features – An Overview

  • Euphorbia trigona is widely commercialized as an ornamental potted plant and, due to the presence of spines, it is also used as a fence plant.
  • In India, the sap from the plant is mixed with mud from termite mounds and is applied to the blades of new knives and axes to sharpen them.
  • In tropical Africa, it is commonly planted as a ritual plant and as a protective hedge near villages.
  • African Milk Tree has attractive green foliage. The succulent’s narrow leaves are highly ornamental and remain green throughout the winter.
  • The Rubra variety is known for its contrasting deep green stems and red leaves. The color contrast makes it a beautiful plant to have all year round.
  • This succulent prefers bright light. Direct sunlight is ok, but moderately. Like most succulents, the Euphorbia Trigona can get damaged by intense sun and extreme heat.
  • Do not overwater. Allow the soil to dry out before watering. The succulent is drought-tolerant for short periods of time, so you don’t have to worry about watering it if you’re traveling.
  • It prefers warm temperatures, ideally between 15-27°C.
  • Apply a dose of liquid fertilizer in the summer to encourage growth.
  • When grown indoors, the Euphorbia trigona can grow to 1-2 meters tall. But it is a slow-growing plant, so you won’t have to repot it too often.
  • Bloom time is spring and summer. Euphorbia Trigona is also slow when it comes to flowering, so you’re going to need a lot of patience and space to see they bloom.
  • Oftentimes, these succulents will only flower once they reach a very advanced age (20, 40, or even 60 years old) or when they reach a very large size (3 to 6 meters tall). But in a controlled environment, it is almost impossible for the Euphorbia Trigona to bloom.
  • The Euphorbia Trigona is not suitable for children or pets because the sap is poisonous and irritant.
Also known as the cathedral cactus

Growing African Milk Tree

This succulent thrives in indirect but bright sunlight: a southern-facing window will work well for it indoors or an outside spot with partial sun. Full sun is suitable as long as the summers aren’t too hot. Extra watering may be needed to offset an excessive amount of bright sunlight.

This drought-tolerant plant enjoys a dry or arid climate and may tolerate fairly hot temperatures. It doesn’t survive the cold though, and won’t flourish if temperatures go below 10 C. If it’s grown in a place with very hot summers, the African Milk Tree should be located in a spot with indirect sunlight or partial shade, to avoid overheating. Euphorbia trigona doesn’t need any extra humidity and growing it in an environment that’s too humid may cause issues like fungus or pests.

It is important to remember that euphorbia trigona needs to spend winter indoors. Temperatures below 5 degrees are fatal for it. During the cold winter months, keep the plant in a cool place and water it very rarely, leaving the soil almost dry.

Attention! Rare watering should always be correlated with low temperatures. Otherwise, the plant doesn’t become dormant and withers.

4″ Plant Euphorbia TRIGONA RUBRA, From Amazon

The African milk tree doesn’t require pruning to look lovely and cutting it is mostly a personal preference, but it may become necessary if the plant has damaged branches. Snip off the damaged branches 3-5 cm below the affected area using a sharp utility knife. Wear protective gloves when cutting because African milk tree sap may cause an allergic skin reaction in some people. The cutting branch will heal over within a few days and a new branch will grow.

Euphorbia trigona is hardy and resistant to diseases and pests, as long as it is well-cared-for. Avoid watering the soil in excess and provide the plant with good sunlight and air circulation.

Weakened Euphorbia trigonas may be susceptible to mealybugs. If you see cotton-like threads forming on the plant, wipe them off with a paper towel soaked in alcohol. If you have a massive infestation, remove the insects and spray the plant with a natural insecticide.

Watering African Milk Tree Succulents

Being native to the African continent, Euphorbia trigona can tolerate intense heat and partial sun. Place the pot in a warm, sunny place. It is worth mentioning that because Euphorbia trigona is a succulent and not a cactus, it doesn’t tolerate complete drought. But it doesn’t like wet soil either!

Keep the soil very lightly moist during spring and summer. If the top few inches of soil feel completely dry to the touch, deep watering is required. Just make sure that the plant doesn’t stand in water or soggy soil as this can lead to rotting roots.

Like all succulents, the African Milk Tree requires good drainage, so check that your clay pot has drainage holes. The best substrate consists of garden soil mixed with sand, which ensures good drainage or you can use store-bought succulent and cacti soil mix.

Euphorbia Trigona Rubra-Red Cathedral Cactus Cuttings, From Amazon

Propagating the African Milk Tree

Euphorbia trigona it’s easily multiplied through cuttings. Gently remove the sprig from the stem. Wait for the sap to leak and for the wound to heal. You can directly plant the cutting in a mixture of peat and sand or perlite. The new succulent will quickly root and fresh growth of leaves is a sign that the plant is established.

Repotting African Milk Tree Succulents

If the plant is growing fast and its current container is not size-appropriate anymore, it is recommended to change it in spring. Most Euphorbia Trigonas will require repotting every two years.

When the African Milk Tree becomes large, you might find it a bit difficult to handle. So, instead of repotting it, you can simply change the top few inches of soil with a fresh one every spring.

In conclusion

African Milk Tree plants, like most succulents, are among the easiest plants to care for in the world. Besides this advantage, they have a few other benefits.

They can purify the air in your house and improve the humidity levels. Succulent plants release a quantity of water into the air that helps regulate the humidity.

They make you happier. We know that walking in nature oxygenates our brains and helps us be more relaxed, but even a single plant in our room can help us be more mindful and brighten our mood.

They change the atmosphere in the house. Succulents help create a beautiful space and integrate very easily on any desk, table, or bookshelf. The design of your home contributes to your well-being.

Euphorbia trigona is a great plant for those spots where nothing else seems to flourish. It doesn’t need much to grow healthy and happy, so it’s a perfect choice for beginner gardeners and busy bees.

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Miruna Secuianu

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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