Euphorbia fulgens: Scarlet Plume

It sometimes happens that plants, and not only those with decorative flowers, fall into oblivion, even though they have been regularly cultivated for dec-ades, only to be suddenly ‘rediscovered’ — a single exhibition and an enterprising nursery are all that is necessary to make such a plant a ‘hit’ overnight.

Euphorbia fulgens (syn. E. jacquiniaeflora), a spurge from Mexico, was the subject of such a rebirth of interest several years ago, even though it had been introduced into cultivation as far back as 1836. Previously, it was grown more for cutting and thus only now is it becoming a plant for room decoration in the modern home.

This small shrub has one drawback in that it is not much branched and the cyathiums are borne at the tips of the branches. Flowers are borne more profusely only by older, regularly pruned plants. The leaves are about 7 to 13 cm (23A to 5 in) long (includeing the stalk). The flowers generally appear in autumn and early winter, for flowering is closely tied to a decrease in light intensity, in other words it occurs only when the period of daylight is 12 to 13 hours. Such plants are called short-day flowers.

Cultivation is relatively simple. The compost should be light and porous but relatively nourishing; a loam-peat mixture, lightened by adding a little sand is ideal, or a chrysanthemum mixture may be used. In late March the plants should be given a period of rest (about 6 weeks) during which time the heat should be lowered and watering greatly limited, but not altogether withheld.

Propagation is not difficult. Cuttings should be soaked in tepid water, to release the milky sap which otherwise blocks the conductive passages in the tis-sues when it congeals, and then inserted in a mixture of sand and peat in a warm, moist propagator.

Another species of spurge with decorative flowers, the poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is grown in the same manner, only the dormant period in spring is longer and more thorough, water being withheld completely during the entire time.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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