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Albanian Spurge Euphorbia characias

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
you-FOR-bee-uh kuh-RAY-see-us
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Mediterranean spurge is an easy, low maintenance, perennial that is perfect for a ground cover or specimen plant. This compact, upright, evergreen is native to southern Europe, Turkey, and Albania. Euphorbia is named for the 1st-century Greek physician who used the sap for medicinal purposes.

Grown in sunny dry locations with good drainage, it is well suited for xeriscaping, and places where maintenance is difficult, such as banks, and poor soil. It is tolerant of many conditions and is not picky about soil PH; however, wet soil in the winter can cause problems. It can easily be used to fill a small space in the garden or as a specimen plant. This spurge is grown for its easy care and beautiful foliage, with many cultivars available with colors from silver-grey, blue-green, and green-yellow. Highlighting the foliage in spring is a cluster of bottlebrush petal-less flowers called cyathia. The most well-known plant of the spurge family is the poinsettia with its beautiful red cyathia.

Mediterranean spurge goes well in the garden with other early bloomers such as tulips, daffodils, candytuft, columbine, and bluebells. Keep the plant soil moist until it becomes established, then water when soil is dry several inches below the surface. Pull up or prune back if it becomes overgrown for the area. Propagate by dividing and replanting in moist soil. It can also be propagated by stem cuttings. Let cut stems dry for a few days to allow the sap to form a callus on the cut end before planting in peat to prevent rot. When cut, the sap can cause skin irritation.

Diseases, Insect Pests, and Other Plant Problems:

No known serious insect or disease problems. Milky sap, called lates, in the eyes can cause blindness or skin irritation. Wear gloves when deadheading or pruning, especially if there are open cuts or scratches on the hands.

VIDEO Created by Elisabeth Meyer for "Houseplants, Succulents, and Cacti", a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

More information on Euphorbia.

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See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Black Pearl'
  • 'Lambrook Gold'
  • 'Portuguese Velvet'
  • 'Silver Swan'
  • subsp. wulfenii In bloom
    Shorter with more vivid color
  • 'Tasmanian Tiger'
    Variagated foliage and pale yellow and cream bracts with green center blotches.
  • 'Thelma's Giant'
  • 'Whistleberry Garnet'
'Black Pearl', 'Lambrook Gold', 'Portuguese Velvet', 'Silver Swan', subsp. wulfenii, 'Tasmanian Tiger', 'Thelma's Giant', 'Whistleberry Garnet'
Tags:
#drought tolerant#perennials#shrub#herbaceous perennials#groundcover#poor soils tolerant#contact dermatitis
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Black Pearl'
  • 'Lambrook Gold'
  • 'Portuguese Velvet'
  • 'Silver Swan'
  • subsp. wulfenii In bloom
    Shorter with more vivid color
  • 'Tasmanian Tiger'
    Variagated foliage and pale yellow and cream bracts with green center blotches.
  • 'Thelma's Giant'
  • 'Whistleberry Garnet'
'Black Pearl', 'Lambrook Gold', 'Portuguese Velvet', 'Silver Swan', subsp. wulfenii, 'Tasmanian Tiger', 'Thelma's Giant', 'Whistleberry Garnet'
Tags:
#drought tolerant#perennials#shrub#herbaceous perennials#groundcover#poor soils tolerant#contact dermatitis
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Euphorbia
    Species:
    characias
    Family:
    Euphorbiaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The white milky sap has been used to treat skin cancers, tumors, and warts.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Mediterranean, Southern Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Albania
    Distribution:
    Argentina, New Zealand, United States, United Kingdom
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Nectar plant to pollinators
    Dimensions:
    Height: 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Perennial
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Creeping
    Dense
    Erect
    Horizontal
    Mounding
    Oval
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Fine
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Fruit Type:
    Schizocarp
    Fruit Description:
    The dry fruit of spurge is insignificant. The smooth mericarps split open to release a single round hairy capsule.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Shape:
    Cup
    Flower Petals:
    Bracts
    Flower Description:
    A bottlebrush-like inflorescence tops the plant in spring. The inflorescence does not have individual flower petals but has a cluster of petal-like whirls of bracts called a cyathium, the same as the well-known poinsettia’s red flowers are also bracts. The bracts sit on terminal cylindrical-shaped heads and have black or dark brown nectar glands. Spurge has both male and female flowers and blooms in their second year.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Blue
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Smooth
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Other/more complex
    Leaf Shape:
    Linear
    Obovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves of spurge are blue-green in spring through summer, turning yellow-green in the fall. The dense, simple, scale-like leaves are arranged in a spiral along the stems. As the plant matures, the leaves become crowded near the top of the stem and are sparse near the base of the plant. Some people think the leaves smell like coffee.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Straight
    Stem Leaf Scar Shape:
    C-shaped, Cresent shaped
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    Spurge has a multi-stem trunk that is leafy throughout at first and becomes bare and semi-woody at the base, showing prominent leaf scars. The stem is purplish-green, smooth, erect, and covered with fine woolly hairs. The stem is biennial and carries the flower heads in their second year.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Container
    Naturalized Area
    Rock Wall
    Slope/Bank
    Small Space
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Mass Planting
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Insect Pests
    Pollution
    Rabbits
    Salt
    Squirrels
    Urban Conditions
    Problems:
    Contact Dermatitis
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Can be a skin irritant and cause problems if in contact with eyes.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Saponins
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    Yes
    Poison Part:
    Sap/Juice