Euphorbia characias subsp. characias (Mediterranean spurge)

Botanical name

Euphorbia characias subsp. characias

Other names

Mediterranean spurge

Genus

Euphorbia Euphorbia

Species

E. characias subsp. characias – E. characias subsp. characias is an upright, tender, evergreen sub-shrub with linear to oblong, grey-green leaves and, from spring into summer, dense, cylindrical clusters of small flowers surrounded by showy, yellow-green bracts.

Foliage

Evergreen

Habit

Upright

Toxicity

All parts of the plant are highly toxic if ingested. The milky sap may cause irritation to skin and eyes.

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Colour

Flower

Yellow-green in Spring; Yellow-green in Summer

Grey-green in All seasons

How to care

Watch out for

Pests

Generally pest-free.

Diseases

Generally disease-free.

General care

Pruning

Cut flowered shoots to ground level in late summer or early autumn.

Propagation methods

Basal cuttings, Division

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Where to grow

Euphorbia characias subsp. characias (Mediterranean spurge) will reach a height of 1.2m and a spread of 1.2m after 2-5 years.

Suggested uses

Architectural, Rock, Ground Cover, Low Maintenance, Mediterranean, Gravel

Cultivation

Plant in free-draining soil in full sun. If necessary, add grit or sharp sand to the soil to improve drainage. Dislikes winter wet, so a gravel mulch will help avoid rotting.

Soil type

Chalky, Loamy, Sandy

Soil drainage

Well-drained

Soil pH

Acid, Alkaline, Neutral

Light

Full Sun

Aspect

South, East, West

Exposure

Exposed, Sheltered

UK hardiness Note: We are working to update our ratings. Thanks for your patience.

Hardy (H4)

USDA zones

Zone 9, Zone 8, Zone 7

Defra’s Risk register #1

Plant name

Euphorbia characias subsp. characias (Mediterranean spurge)

Common pest name

grape ground pearl

Scientific pest name

Margarodes vitis

Type

Insect

Current status in UK

Absent

Likelihood to spread to UK (1 is very low – 5 is very high)

Impact (1 is very low – 5 is very high)

General biosecurity comments

Main pathway; Vitis spp. plants for planting; already prohibited. However; further consideration of other pathways is required.

Defra’s Risk register #2

Euphorbia characias subsp. characias (Mediterranean spurge)

pink wax scale; red was scale; ruby wax scale

Ceroplastes rubens

Insect

Absent

Based on its biology and low potential impact continued action on this pest in the UK would not be considered appropriate. It is likely to be of more concern to southern Member States of the EU; as it is an economic pest of citrus.

Defra’s Risk register #3

Euphorbia characias subsp. characias (Mediterranean spurge)

Banded-winged whitefly

Trialeurodes abutiloneus

Insect

Absent

Polyphagous whitefly native to the Americas with the potential to introduce harmful viruses to the UK. EU regulation should be considered and further assessed by EPPO.

About this section

Our plants are under greater threat than ever before. There is increasing movement of plants and other material traded from an increasing variety of sources. This increases the chances of exotic pests arriving with imported goods and travellers, as well as by natural means. Shoot is working with Defra to help members to do their part in preventing the introduction and spread of invasive risks.

Traveling or importing plants? Please read “Don’t risk it” advice here

Suspected outbreak?

Date updated: 7th March 2019 For more information visit: https://planthealthportal.defra.gov.uk/

Euphorbia wulfenii in flower

The Mediterranean Spurge

One of the widely grown species Euphorbia wulfenii is a tall evergreen perennial that is well suited to dry areas especially those with mild winters where the year round colour is appreciated. This is an evergreen variety, it will flower from late winter into spring and adds both height and colour to the garden border. Commonly called the ‘Mediterranean Spurge’ and as it is so widely grown simply the green Euphorbia.

Reaching around 1m in height Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii is grown both for the foliage and the large flower heads that appear in late winter. Brilliant green flowers that appear above attractive deeper green foliage are actually large flower bracts, and combined with the foliage make this a very useful landscaping plant.

Varieties

A few different cultivars are available including Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’ (see picture right) with its attractive variegated foliage. An excellent architectural plant for a container in a sunny courtyard.

Euphorbia wulfenii ‘Shorty’ is generally a lower growing cultivar as the name suggests, green foliage and yellow flowers. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is even smaller growing cultivar, not available in Australia as far as we know.

This is a tough plant originally from a Mediterranean climate and well suited to Australian conditions.

  • Euphorbia wulfenii Silver Swan

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Euphorbia wulfenii Care

  • Full sun to a little afternoon shade.
  • Humus rich well drained soil.
  • Water when dry through the first summer.
  • Height – To around 1.2 metres
  • Flowering time – Late winter to spring depending on the climate.
  • Prune back to the ground after flowering.
  • Wear gloves to avoid irritation from sap.

Pruning

Euphorbia wulfenii is best with a reasonably hard pruning after flowering. This will ensure a compact bushy growth and a healthy plant. You can prune the spent flower heads back as low as you can, use protection for hands and arms as the sap is irritating to the skin.

As with all euphorbias take care when pruning as the white milky sap is a skin and eye irritants, wear protective clothing and wash hands well after pruning.

Propagation

Easily propagated from cuttings or by division of established clumps. Cuttings can be taken in spring, and planted directly into a free draining potting mix. Division is best in spring.

Problems

Mildew due to poor air circulation and humidity

Plant in Focus – Mediterranean Spurge

  • At June 20, 2018
  • By Ally Jackson
  • In News

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

A great looking plant in the garden, no matter what the season.

It’s hard not to love this plant. Originating from the Mediterranean, it’s one of those exotics that sits very comfortably amongst the more muted colours and textures of the Australian environment.

The way the blue-green leaves are arranged in a spiral whorl up the stem and the ‘wulf’ in its name brings fluffy tails to mind. Their stem tips are punctuated by the most striking acid-lime bracts in late winter/early spring that continue to look good into early summer.

When in bloom, their bract-colour pops in borders with contrasting-coloured flowers such as lavender, echium and salvias. They’ve really earned their stripes in our garden designs for their textural quality and for being pest and disease free, drought resistant, low maintenance plants – really hard-workers in sunny parts of a garden.

On the down-side, all euphorbias have a milky, irritating sap that is best avoided by wearing gloves when handling them. They can also self-sow, but the seedlings are easily removed.

Year-round this metre-high, shrubby perennial always looks good, maintaining interest and engagement thanks to its texture and many changes in form.

Scientific Name

Euphorbia characias L.

Common Names

Albanian Spurge, Mediterranean Spurge

Synonyms

Characias purpurea, Esula characias, Euphorbia cretica, Euphorbia cuatrecasasii, Euphorbia eriocarpa, Euphorbia lycia, Euphorbia melapetala, Euphorbia messeniaca, Euphorbia rubens, Euphorbia sibthorpii, Euphorbia veneta, Euphorbia wulfenii, Galarhoeus creticus, Tithymalus characias, Tithymalus melapetalus, Tithymalus purpureus, Tithymalus serotina, Tithymalus sibthorpii, Tithymalus venetus, Tithymalus wulfenii

Scientific Classification

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Subfamily: Euphorbioideae
Tribe: Euphorbieae
Subtribe: Euphorbiinae
Genus: Euphorbia

Description

Euphorbia characias is a compact evergreen shrub, up to 4 feet (1.2 m) tall and about the same in width, with grey-green leaves that grow in spirals around many upright stems. From spring to early summer, at the top of the stems, it produces bottlebrush-shaped clusters of cyathia with yellow-green bracts and characteristic black or dark brown nectar glands. The fruits are round and hairy capsules.

Hardiness

USDA hardiness zones 7a to 10b: from 0 °F (−17.8 °C) to 40 °F (+4.4 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Euphorbias are very easy to care for. These plants require a little pampering to become established, but once they are, they are self-sufficient. In fact, more die from too much care and watering than from neglect. Euphorbias need well-draining soil and lots of sunlight. They are not particular about soil pH, but they cannot tolerant wet soil. Unlike most succulents, Euphorbia does not handle long periods of drought well. It may need weekly watering during the summer. Water whenever the soil is dry several inches below the surface. Water deeply, but don’t let them sit in wet soil, which can cause root rot. Add some organic matter or fertilizer to the planting hole. If you are growing them in containers or your soil is poor, feed with a half-strength fertilizer monthly.

These succulents can be grown from seed, but they can be difficult to germinate (or even find). They are usually propagated by cuttings. This can be tricky, because of the exuding sap. Rooting hormone is recommended with Euphorbias. They tend to grow problem-free, but there are a few pests and diseases to be alert for… – See more at: How to Grow and Care for Euphorbia

Origin

Native to the Mediterranean region.

Hybrids

  • Euphorbia x martini

Links

  • Back to genus Euphorbia
  • Succulentopedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus

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  • Position: full sun
  • Soil: light, well-drained garden soil
  • Rate of growth: fast growing
  • Flowering period: March to May
  • Hardiness: fully hardy
    This handsome euphorbia has upright stems clothed with whorls of fleshy, glaucous leaves and topped with huge heads of chartreuse-green flowers with bronze ‘eyes’ from March to May. The Edwardian garden designer Gertrude Jekyll described this sun-loving, evergreen shrub as ‘one of the grandest of plants’. Euphorbia characias originates from the Mediterranean, where it is found on dry rocky slopes and scrubland, so it is very tolerant of drought once it becomes established. It forms a natural rounded shape, and brings structure and an architectural quality to the garden. A tall mainstay of the traditional herbaceous border, it’s equally at home in a contemporary minimalist or gravel garden. It may self-seed, but plants rarely come true from seed.
  • Garden care: Each stem is biennial, so will produce leaves in its first year and flower in its second. Once the stem has produced a flower it should be cut right back to its base, or to a point where there is new growth emerging, in midsummer. This will make way for lots of new, fresh shoots. When working with spurges always wear gloves since the milky sap is poisonous and a potential skin irritant. Remove seedlings as they appear.

  • CAUTION toxic if eaten/skin & eye irritant

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

My flowering Euphorbia has become so heavy, that a big chunk of he plant was pulled down and broke off. Any chance to rescue the broken off part?

Betty

2019-04-28

If the stem has snapped, then there is little chance of saving it, but you may like to cut it and enjoy it in a vase for a few days. Do wear gloves when tackling this however as their milky sap can be an irritant. Do also keep in mind that the stems of this Euphorbia should be cut back to their base in midsummer, which makes way for the following years flowering stems.

2019-05-09

Helen

Hi Can Euphorbia characias wulfenii be planted in a pot

Jeniren

2015-04-08 2015-04-14 when can I prune this and remove the flowering branches?

Lorraine

2014-05-14

Hello there Once the stem has produced a flower it should be cut right back to its base, or to a point where there is new growth emerging, from late summer or autumn. Please remember when working with spurges always wear gloves since the milky sap is poisonous and a potential skin irritant. Hope this helps.

2014-05-15 Can you recommend a tall growing euphorbia I can plant in a dry dappled shaded area of my garden. The bed is west facing and it would be planted in front of a laurel hedge and in a border of shrubs. Thank you Lynda

Bopa

2014-03-22 2014-03-24 Dear Plant Doctor My Euphorbia characias wulfenii has recently turned dry and yellow and looks like it is dying –is this the heat or too much water? Any advice would be much appreciated – this plant is one of main features in our small garden.

SmallTownGardener

2013-07-14

Hello, It is difficult to know from your description what could be causing this. They tend to thrive in hot, sunny spots, but if it has only recently been planted, then it will need a lot more water than it would normally. If however it is planted into heavy soil that holds on to water for any length of time, it may well be unhappy and waterlogged. It is also worth keeping in mind that as each stem is biennial, it should be cut right back to its base (or to a point where there is new growth emerging) after it has flowered. This should be tackled in midsummer and will make way for lots of new, fresh shoots. Remember to wear gloves though as the milky sap is poisonous.

2013-07-15

Helen

Hi I purchased a couple of Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii from you which have been planted now for 2.5 – 3 years. I gave one to my neighbour. Mine is in a spot it seems to love which is dry and sunny and has grown to a good size, over 1 metre wide and it sends out a very strong odour for some reason. Its never flowered though and I’m wondering if I’m doing anything wrong? Thanks Andrea

Sandy1

2013-02-13

Hello, This does sound unusual, as if they are growing in a sunny spot they usually flower really well. It is worth keeping in mind that each stem will only flower in its second year, so it is important not to cut the stems back until they have flowered – or you may never see any. The other thing you can do to give them a bit of a push is to feed it with a fertiliser that is high in potash. Tomorite i ideal.

2013-02-14

Helen

What plants would you recommend for my Mediterranean style garden? Our garden is quite well established and has a Mediterranean feel. We have quite a few spaces that need filling and were hoping you could suggest a few things?

Mrs C Taylor

2005-03-31 2005-04-01

Crocus

What can I plant in a Mediterranean style garden? I want give my garden a Mediterranean look but I do not know what to plant. Could you please help? 2005-03-29 2005-03-30

Crocus

In the wild, Euphorbia characias grows along the northern side of the Mediterranean Sea from Portugal to Turkey. Two subspecies have been recognised: Euphorbia characias ssp. characias and Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii. Subspecies characias has weakly trapezoid dark purple to black nectaries on its involucre; subspecies wulfenii has crescent shaped yellow nectaries with distinct horns.

In the garden, Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii is widely grown. It grows 1 – 1.5 metres tall, with a similar spread, and likes well drained soil in a sunny sheltered spot. It used to do well (pictured above) in a fairly sunny sheltered border on loamy soil in our previous garden. In our new garden we are growing it in a sunny south-facing raised bed and in sandy, thin soil under our living room window (pictured below).

Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii, growing in a south facing border (early spring 2015).

There are several named cultivars of Euphorbia characias, including ‘Humpty Dumpty’ (a dwarf form, growing to 30cm high), ‘Lambrook Gold’ (to 1.2 metres, with large bracts), ‘Black Pearl‘ (to 90cm, with dark nectaries, so presumably a form of Euphorbia characias ssp. characias) and ‘Portuguese Velvet’ (to 50cm, with very blue-grey foliage).

Euphorbia characias is a fairly short-lived plant, lasting no more than five to seven years. It can decline quite quickly: our first plant was doing very well in 2004, then became rather gappy in 2005 before dying altogether in 2006. The better drained the soil, the longer the plant will live. It also dislikes cold winds. Each upright shoot is biennial and should be pruned to its base in June or July. Pruning not only tidies the plant, it rejuvenates it to some extent, and new shoots will be produced almost straightaway. Use sharp secateurs and wear gloves to protect your hands from the irritant sap. Euphorbia characias will self-seed, but if you have a named variety, the seedlings may not come true.

Euphorbia characias mixes well with other Mediterranean plants. The one growing under our living room window is growing beside a Ceonothus ‘Blue Sapphire’, which has contrasting dark green foliage, flushed with bronze. In the raised bed, low sun-loving plants such as Erigeron karvinskianus continue the interest through the summer and the nearby Stipa gigantea should add height and airy movement when it flowers. It will be a good companion, provided it is given enough room and its leaves don’t cover the Euphorbia. The Australian iGarden website lists some other possible planting combinations. It also reminds me that there is a cultivar with white and green variegated foliage and white bracts called ‘Silver Swan’. I grew it (or a similar cultivar) once but I don’t really like the variegation and the cultivar lacks the vivid acid lime-green that attracts me.

Also in our front garden, we have a Caper Spurge (Euphorbia lathrys), which I wrote about in April 2012, and some Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) and the Myrtle Spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites). I do like spurges and I’m not the only one, as is shown by this article in The Guardian by Ambra Edwards.

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