Cactii Succulents

Guide to Pencil Cactus: How to Grow & Care for “Euphorbia Tirucalli”

Read our guide to Euphorbia Tirucalli for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting & caring for “Pencil Cactus” succulent plants
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Euphorbia tirucalli, usually referred to as Pencil Cactus, Sticks on Fire, Aveloz, Naked Lady, or Pencil Tree, is a species of succulent that can be found in semi-arid tropical climates. The Pencil Cactus is native to African and Indian regions, growing mostly in black clay soils.

These plants belong to the Euphorbiaceae family of flowering plants. In many cultures, Pencil Cacti are used in alternative medicine. People from India, Malaysia, Brazil, and Indonesia have tried to use these plants as a treatment for numerous diseases including cancer, asthma, earache, and rheumatism.

Due to their easy-growing nature, Pencil Cacti are very popular ornamental houseplants. They are tolerant of full sunlight, drought, and even long periods of neglect. As a result, the Pencil Cactus is a perfect option for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.

About Pencil Cactus

  • They enjoy constant baths of bright and direct sunlight. Place your Pencil Cactus in a spot that allows it to absorb all the light it needs during the day. Do not leave your plant in low light conditions, as it will eventually wither.
  • Like all succulents, Pencil Cacti do not require frequent watering. They store a large quantity of water in their fleshy branches enough for a long time.
  • Euphorbia Tirucalli shrubs will benefit from a slightly gritty soil that has good drainage. They are susceptible to root rot, so it is better to let their potting soil dry out than to over-water
  • To ensure equal growth, it is suggested that you rotate your Euphorbia Tirucalli plants regularly. They are slow-growing plants that require repotting once every two or three years.
  • You can plant your Pencil Cactus in an unglazed container. It is the ideal choice as it can help the excess water to evaporate.
  • Pencil Cactus is a species of hydrocarbon plants. They produce latex that can be an excellent alternative to fuel. Their sap can be poisonous, as it is very irritating and may cause blindness, so make sure you handle with care.
  • If these plants’ sap is consumed, they may cause pretty severe reactions. Make sure you wear protection glasses and gloves when you are taking care of them. Also, it’s recommended to keep them away from cats, dogs, and curious children.
Euphorbia tirucalli
Euphorbia tirucalli

Pencil Cactus Features: An Overview

  • Some species of the Euphorbia genus such as E. Attastoma, E. Gymnoclada, E. Appariciana, and E. Crossadenia are currently facing the risk of extinction.
  • Although this species has been promoted as effective in cancer treatment in the past, new research shows that they sustain tumor growth, suppressing the immune system.
  • They are shrubs or small trees that can grow up to 30 feet (9 m) tall in their natural habitat. With proper environmental conditions, they can reach up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in height when they are planted in a container.
  • Euphorbia Tirucalli plants are also known as “Milk Bush” because they release a milky, white, and toxic latex sap from their stalks.
  • Pencil Cacti have 0.2 inches (7 mm) thick, green, succulent slender branches that change their color during the cooler seasons turning orange, pink, or yellow. This is the reason why they are often referred to as “Sticks on Fire”.
  • These plants look lovely when planted with Sedum Angelina and Sedum Firestorm species, as they can exhibit their vibrant colors together. Also, they pair well with cacti and other succulents due to their similar environmental requirements.
  • Rarely, they produce small and yellow bloomings at the ends of their stalks. The flowers are rather small and will only be observed if you look closely enough, so they usually go unnoticed.
Euphorbia tirucalli also known as "Fire Sticks"
Euphorbia tirucalli also known as “Fire Sticks”

Growing Pencil Cactus

Pencil Cacti are the ideal choice for both indoor and outdoor growing. They require little attention and will thrive even when they are neglected for a long time.

If you want to grow Pencil cacti outdoors, these shrubs enjoy the warm days with full sunlight. When growing them indoors, you should place them in front of a south or west-facing window. This spot will provide them with enough bright, direct light during most of the day and ensures maximum growth. They can also be grown in greenhouses and propagating them is also quite easy.

Like all tropical plants, Pencil Cactus prefers mild temperatures between 65 and 70 °F (18-21 °C). If you want your plant to grow healthy, make sure you protect it from temperatures that drop below 50 °F (10 °C). During the winter season, it is better to keep your plant indoors.

Euphorbia Tirucalli shrubs grow at a pretty slow pace, so they do not need frequent repotting. Generally, it is recommended to repot these plants once every two or three years in the summer or spring. This is the period when Pencil Cacti are in their best shape. Be careful when choosing a new container, as one that is too big may drown your plant. You need to replace the current planter with one that is 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) larger to ensure healthy growth. If you want to keep your plant at its current size, you can change its soil and replant it into the same pot.

Growing in a pot
Growing in a pot

They love fertilizers, especially during the growing season. To ensure optimal growth, you can feed your young Pencil Cactus with controlled-release fertilizer or one that is low in nitrogen in early spring. You can also use a balanced liquid fertilizer once a week in the warmer seasons. If you have a mature plant, it is better to use a 20-20-20 houseplant food at ¼ strength.

Regular pruning is not necessary, but if you notice any dead stems, you can always give your Pencil Cactus a healthier look. However, you should be careful when you handle it to avoid direct contact with the latex.

For general care, you can clean the stalks regularly using a cotton cloth. This will help your Pencil Cactus absorb more sunlight and photosynthesize better. While removing the dust, you can also search your plant for pests. They are vulnerable to spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. You can kill these pests with a cotton pad dipped in alcohol or by simply moving your plant outside where natural predators can do it in your place.

Watering Pencil Cactus

They are very tolerant of drought. Euphorbia Tirucalli plants are low-maintenance succulents that store a lot of water in their roots and stems, so you do not need to water them frequently. However, a Pencil Cactus can receive too little water. The common indicators of under-watering are wrinkly flesh and brown tips.

The symptoms of an under and over-watered Pencil Cactus are quite similar, so it could be difficult to discern which one is the real issue. If your plant looks soft and mushy and parts of it turn grey to brown, your plant was most likely damaged by over-watering.

Make sure you always check the soil in-between the waterings and water the plant when you notice that the soil has dried out completely. Pencil Cactus needs watering every two or three weeks during summer, but it’s always good to check the soil with your finger. In spring and fall, Pencil Cacti need very little water and once winter settles in they need even less.

Pencil Tree
Pencil Tree

Propagating Pencil Cactus

You can propagate your Pencil Cactus from stem cuttings. Take a cutting that is 4-5 inches (10-12 cm) long from a healthy stem using a sharp and sterilized knife. Gently remove the lower leaves, making sure you have a bare stem of about 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) long. Wipe the bottom layer with powdered rooting hormone and let it dry for a week or so. Before planting your cutting in damp potting soil, you need to wait for it to form a callus.

Fill a small container that has drainage holes with a suitable potting mix for cacti and succulents. You can also prepare your homemade mix from crushed rocks, perlite, or sand and some compost. Dip the stem cutting into the potting mix, place the pot in a bright and warm area, and provide it with plenty of water.

You will notice roots developing on your cutting in several weeks. Once the roots have grown, you need to transplant the baby Pencil Cactus into a larger container and water it thoroughly. Wait for the soil to dry out, then give your plant the usual care as for Pencil Cacti.

In Conclusion

Pencil Cacti are used with the environmental conditions found in their natural habitat, so they do not need any special care. These succulent shrubs are excellent ornamental houseplants for beginner gardeners, forgetful owners, or travelers, as they can forgive your neglect for weeks.

They are very easy to grow as long as you provide them with bright and direct sunlight, gritty and well-draining potting soil, and watering now and then. Also, you can easily multiply and plant them in combination with many other succulents and cacti, so you do not need to worry about the space and resources of your home.

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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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