Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Firesticks’ (yoo-FOR-bee-uh tee-roo-KAL-ee) are seen in many gardens around Knysna, either growing in pots or in rockeries. After the fire of 2017, Denise gave me a few shoots, three I planted in containers, one on the verge and one near the pool. Now three years later, the ones in containers are about half the size of the ones in open ground, I have also found that the more sun it receives, the more intense the colour is.
It is a hardy, evergreen, tough, drought-resistant, succulent shrub or small tree with rarely-seen, tiny leaves that fall very early as this plant uses its green stems to photosynthesise. In this form the tips of the branches turn yellow, red and orange giving the impression that the tips of the plant are on fire.
Resembling sea coral, Euphorbia tirucalli “Fire Sticks is a striking evergreen succulent shrub forming a thicket of brilliantly coloured, loosely branching vertical stem. As thin as pencils, the distinctive stems exhibit a reddish golden colour which fades to yellow shades in summer before changing back to redder tones in winter.
Tiny, yellow flowers appear from September to December at the end of the new growth. These flowers attract masses of insects and butterflies.
The seed capsules that follow are prized by everything from ants to birds and even monkeys.The dense branches make ideal nesting sites for birds. Traditionally it is utilised as a living hedge to provide a nocturnal kraal for livestock. Although it is thornless, the dense, angular structure of the branchlets makes it fairly impenetrable, especially in older specimens. In some areas it will grow into a tree. As with most members of this genus, the sap is poisonous.
Young plants grow relatively fast and will benefit from a liquid fertiliser and well-composted, well-drained soil. These beautiful trees are best positioned in open, full-sun positions on rocky sites such as rock gardens, embankments or gravelly slopes. It perform best in dry to medium moisture coastal gardens. It can be used in containers where it will lend colour and height. It is resilient to most pest and diseases, is salt tolerant and easy to care for.
E triucalli is native to a wide range from Madagascar north through tropical and subtropical Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and India. It has a wide distribution in Africa, being prominently present in northeastern, central and southern Africa.
All parts of plant are toxic if ingested. The milky sap may cause irritation to skin and eyes. Be very careful when handling this plant as the stems break easily and the milky sap can burn skin or get into eyes. Use gloves and protective goggles when handling this plant.