Firestick Plant [Euphorbia tirucalli]: Care And Propagation

Firestick Plant

Firestick plant commonly known as naked lady is a hardy, leafless (as leaves fall very soon), ornamental shrub performing best in dry weather conditions. This is a fast growing and spreading plant. Since, Euphorbia tirucalli is an evergreen succulent plant, it is adapted to semi-arid climatic conditions. Firestick is not a tropical plant. However, it can be grown in semi-arid tropical conditions. 

Firestick Plant

This plant is also known by the common name of pencil tree, pencil cactus, Malabar tree, Rubber-hedge euphorbia, Indian Tree spurge, Finger tree, Red pencil tree, Milk bush, Sticks on fire etc. Although this plant is commonly known as pencil cactus, this plant lacks spines and due to which they are known as least cactus like of the tree spurges. This plant is popular for its vibrant orange-red color. However, this characteristic color only develops when the plant is exposed to enough light. The smooth, dull green branches have made its appearance artistic. You can cultivate this plant in a pot or in the garden as a small tree.

 

Botanical Classification

Kingdom: Plantae

      Clade: Tracheophytes

   Clade: Angiosperms

Clade: Eudicots

Clade: Rosids

         Order: Malpighiales

             Family: Euphorbiaceae

      Genus: Euphorbia

  Species: tirucalli

                                                                                                Common name: Naked lady

 

Where To Grow Firestick Plant?

Firestick plants are generally grown as shrubs or bushes. You can grow them in a container, so that it becomes easy to take them indoors when frost arises. If you have the provision for plenty of light, you can grow these plants indoors. Since it is a high light requiring plants, it must be placed in south facing or west facing windows while growing windows. To ensure, proper and adequate light requirement of each part of the plant, rotate the pot every month.

Beside these, the Firestick plant also performs very well in greenhouse conditions.   

Origin

The Firestick plant is commonly found in Northeastern, Central and Southern Africa. Some literature cites that this plant is native to the Arabian Peninsula and from where it has been introduced to various parts of the world including Philippines, Vietnam, India, Ghana and Brazil.   

Also Read:- Alligator Plant: Care, Propagation And Benefits 

Plant Characters

As leaves shed early, this plant is preferred for its showy stem and inconspicuous flower.  Following are the some feature of this plant:

Height

Firestick plants can attain the height 2.5 m and width of 1.5 m when grown indoors or in the container in the garden. The branches are about 7 mm thick. However, this plant can attain the height of 15-30 feet when grown as landscape plants. In the wild it grows up to the height of 30 feet and 6-10 feet wide.

Stems

The stems of this plant are tall, slender and glabrous with a diameter of 5-8 mm. The thin stems of this plant develop into bushes as the plant matures. The bark of this plant is gray and rough.

Leaves

The Firestick plant is considered as leafless as the tiny and thin leaves of this plant fall very soon. So, leaves are rarely seen. However the leaves scar on the limbs give artistic appearance to the plant. The leaves are usually light red, pink, orange or yellow.  

Flowers

The Flowers of these plants are inconspicuous and yellow in color. Flower-like structures of Firestick plants are called cyathia that are usually produced at the top of the stems. The flower occurs in clusters and this plant usually flowers during cooler months of the year.

Fruits

Fruits are usually pale green with a pink tinge and have short stalks. The diameter of the fruit is about 12 mm. They are basically 3-lobed capsules and are covered with soft hairs. Fruits are rarely seen and are called berries. 

Seeds

Seeds of these plants are small with black color. 

Growth Rate

This plant has a fairly fast growth rate. Under optimum growth conditions, a firestick plant can grow as much as 20 inches in a year. The growth rate gradually slows down as the plant matures.

 

Special Features Of Firestick Plant

Following are the some special feature of the firestick plant: 

  •         They are high sunlight requiring crops.
  •         They are toxic to all the living creatures.
  •         The milky white sap of this plant consists of toxic compound diterpene esters.
  •         They are resistant to most of the pests.
  •         They are generally propagated by stem cutting.
  •         The leaves of this plant shed early, so they are often considered as leafless.
  •         They have inconspicuous flowers that bloom for a very short time.
  •         These plants do not have spines.

 

Is It Toxic?

Despite its attractive appearance, these plants have irritating latex sap. The sap of this plant is highly toxic to almost all living creatures including people, dogs, cats and horses.

Which Part Of The Firestick Plant Is Toxic?

Since at the time of handling, milky sap may come in contact with your skin. So, there is no safe part of the firestick plant. Any time you handle it, there is risk of corrosive sap coming in contact with your body parts. So, be careful and adopt all safety measures while handling it.

What Are The Symptoms Of Toxicity?

Sap toxicity basically causes severe skin irritation and eye injury.

Sap Toxicity To Eyes

Following symptoms are associated with sap toxicity to eyes:

  •         Redness of eyes
  •         Burning of the eyes
  •         Tearing from the eyes
  •         Eyes become sensitive to light
  •         Swollen eyelids
  •         Blurred vision of eyes
  •         Sometime bleeding may also occur
  •         It causes severe damage to cornea
  •         If not treated immediately, it may cause temporary blindness

For all types of eye of eye exposure, you have to rinse your affected eyes as soon as possible. Rinsing should be practiced for 15 minutes. Then you have to visit a doctor for medical attention.

Sap Toxicity To Skin

Sap toxicity to skin is associated with severe skin irritation with swelling, burning, itching etc. A serious rash may arise that leads to blisters ultimately peeling off the skin.  

For treatment of skin contact, at first you have to wash the contact area with cool water. While fluming, you should be very careful. Otherwise the sap may come in contact with unaffected areas of skin. Then, follow the medical prescription.

What Happens When Sap Is Ingested?

When sap of this plant is ingested, following symptoms are seen:

  •         Vomiting
  •         Burning of lip, mouth and tongue
  •         Excessive salivation
  •         Irregular heartbeat
  •         Asthma
  •         Seizures
  •         Stomach cramps
  •         Sometime death may also occur

As soon as possible, you have to visit a doctor and follow medical attention. Ingestion of sap can cause severe damage to your health, so visit doctors immediately after ingestion.  

Care Of Firestick Plant

While growing Firestick plant, care should be taken on following things: 

Light

Like other succulent plants, Firestick plants also require adequate light. Sufficient amount of light is required to develop the characteristic color of the stem. They perform best in full sun or partial shading condition when grown outdoors. Since they are high light requiring plants, they should be placed in the windows receiving adequate light throughout the year. Mostly south and west facing windows are most suitable for Firestick plants. 

Temperature

A temperature between 50oF and 70 oF is best suited for growth and development of this plant. Since they are hardy plants, they can thrive at temperatures as low as 25 oF. They can also thrive in temperatures as high as 100 oF.

Soil

Gritty well drained soil is considered best for the firestick plant. A good growing media should consist of two parts of sand, two parts potting soil and one part perlite. Soil with pH 6.0 is highly preferred by this plant.

Also Read:-Stone Lotus Flower: Care And Propagation

Water

Like other succulent plants, Firestick plants also store water in their succulent stems that helps them to thrive during dry periods. Since it is a succulent plant, it requires little water. Apply a little amount of water in such a way that no flow comes out of the drainage holes. Then allow the soil to dry. Indoor Firestick plants require less water as compared to outdoor firestick plants. Overwatering should be avoided as it may induce roots to rot.

Humidity

The Firestick plant performs well in low humid conditions.

Fertilizers

Firestick plants can grow well without fertilizer. However fertilizing the plant once a year is proven good for its growth and development. This plant needs to be fertilized during spring. A mature plant should be fertilized in the ratio of 20:20:20 NPK. However, younger plants require less nitrogen.  

Potting And Repotting

Firestick plants should be potted in a pot of appropriate size. The potting media should consist of two parts of sands, two parts of potting soil and one part of perlite. Firestick plants should be repotted every two or three years. In every repotting pots of larger size than previous should be used. At the time of repotting, soil in the pot must be dry. Then gently remove the plant and prune all the affected roots. Then plant it in another pot of larger size. The new pot should be kept dry for about a week. 

Trimming And Pruning

When you have grown a firestick plant indoors, frequent trimming and pruning is required to maintain the size and appearance of the plant. Thinning of stem from time to time is considered good to facilitate air circulation and to allow light to reach every part. While pruning safety measures should be followed to protect yourselves from the toxic sap. However outdoor plants will not require frequent pruning as they grow freely under natural conditions.

 

Propagation

Firestick plants are usually propagated by stem cutting. For propagation by stem cutting, at first you have to select a young and healthy branch that measures at least six inches in length. Then, cut this stem with a sharp knife. After that, run the water over the cut until sap flow stops. Then, place the cutting in a pot containing well drained soil. After that the pot is placed in a place receiving adequate light. Soil should be kept moist until rooting occurs.

 Common Problems

As this plant has got toxic sap, so it is fairly resistant to many pests and diseases. In most parts of the world this plant is considered pest free. However, over watered and weakened plant is susceptible to following pest:

  •         Aphids
  •         Cactus Scale
  •         Mealybugs
  •         Cactus Scale

For pests, neem oil can be used.

Root rot is a major disease of this plant. Root rot is caused primarily due to high soil moisture. So, keep the soil dry for most of the time.

Some physiological disorders are also associated with Firestick plants. The following are the major physiological disorder of the firestick plant:

    Browning

Browning of the stem is due to sunburn. Extreme sunlight may cause browning of the stems. About six hours of daily sunlight is required for proper growth and development of this plant. However intense sunlight may cause browning, so avoid intense sunlight or provide partial shade during hot summer.

Greening

Greening of firestick plants occurs if it does not get enough sunlight. Long dark winter may cause greening of your firestick plant. For avoiding greening, ensure at least six hours of daily sunlight.

   Leggy Branches

This is also due to low light conditions.

        Shriveling Of Plant

Shriveling occurs due to water stress. The branches droop, dry and get deflated under water stress.

Price

A well grown potted plant may cost about $16.99. However, cost varies according to place and demand for the plant.

 

Pros

  1. This plant has medicinal value. In Brazil, firestick plants are used for the treatment of syphilis. Small amount of sap can be used as a laxative. However, a large amount causes skin irritation.
  2. The bark of this plant has antibacterial, antiherpetic and antimutagenic characteristics.
  3. This plant can be used as a landscape plant in hot, dry climates.
  4. The flowers of these plants serve as the source of pollen for the bees.
  5. Somewhere in the Africa, Firestick plant is also used to treat sexual impotence and snake bite.
  6. The Firestick plant is also used to poison the fishes.
  7. This plant can be easily grown with low maintenance.
  8. Firestick plants absorb radiation from the surrounding and keeps your inner environment healthy.
  9. It also acts as an air purifier.  

 Cons

  1. The Firestick plant has toxic latex.
  2. It can cause severe skin and eye irritation.
  3. It is toxic to almost all the pets.

Conclusion

So, if you can maintain adequate sunlight, you can easily cultivate Firestick plants. Despites its poisonous sap, this plant has many fold advantages. The showy stems and flowers are really mesmerizing and you can enjoy their beauty by having them in your garden or indoors. Low soil moisture, adequate sunlight, low humidity, moderate temperature and moderate fertilization is what you have to take care of while growing a firestick plant. Since it is poisonous, careful handling should be practiced and fencing around the plant is crucial to avoid the pets and children from reaching it.  

Author

    by
  • Sochan Limbu

    A graduate of the Agriculture and Forestry University, Nepal, Mr. Sochan Limbu is an agriculture professional. The author has worked in the gardening field for more than three years and has practical knowledge on how to handle and care for succulents. Get started gardening with his articles.

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