Posted on November 23 2014
Euphorbia Chat – remember, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti!
Euphorbias are a large part of the unusual Cactus Shop offerings with bizarre shapes, colors, and sizes from small to enormous. Many people don’t realize that they are one of Mother Nature’s incredible evolution and adaptation stories. Millions of years ago in the New World, cacti were filling a harsh, inhospitable niche in the landscape where barely anything else could survive.
At that very time most Euphorbias were doing the same thing primarily in the Old World in the harsh areas we now know as Africa, Madagascar, and the surrounding region. Though very similar in appearance, cacti and euphorbias have significant differences. Cacti are filled with a clear fluid for their vascular system, and often they are a source of food and water for animals and humans. Euphorbias have instead a white, caustic latex that in most all cases is toxic from mild to dangerous. If it does come in contact with skin it should be washed off immediately with soap and water as it can really burn. If ingested, or if it gets in the eyes, seek medical attention right away. Cacti have spines that are produced from a special organ known as an areole, and the spines are essentially not living tissue like hair or fingernails. This is what makes a cactus a cactus and not just another succulent. Euphorbias like other succulents can have spines, however these are living tissue, a modification of their skin. Cut a cactus spine…nothing. Cut a spine on a euphorbia or any other succulent…it bleeds.
The Euphorbia “Star of the Season”
Now that you are all experts on telling a euphorbia from a cactus, there’s one member of the euphorbia family that some people aren't aware of...The Poinsettia! This colorful euphorbia is actually a native to the tropical regions of Mexico and Central America and is actually a small tropical tree (Euphorbia pulcherrima). And to set the record straight regarding that white sap, poinsettias are pretty close to being the least poisonous of all euphorbias to the point that you would have to eat several wheelbarrows full (an exaggeration, but you get the point) to get a stomach ache. Of course several wheelbarrows of anything would do the same thing! For lots of fun, interesting and informative facts on poinsettias, go to: http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/points.htm
Article by Bob Reidmuller, Altman Plants