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PlantFiles: Pencil Cactus, Milk Bush, Pencil Euphorbia, Rubber Hedge Euphorbia
Euphorbia tirucalli

Family: Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Euphorbia (yoo-FOR-bee-uh) (Info)
Species: tirucalli (tee-roo-KAL-ee) (Info)

Synonym:Euphorbia rhipsaloides
Synonym:Euphorbia viminalis

3 vendors have this plant for sale.

59 members have or want this plant for trade.

View this plant in a garden

Tropicals and Tender Perennials

12-15 ft. (3.6-4.7 m)
15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)

6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Sun Exposure:
Sun to Partial Shade

All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested
Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction

Bloom Color:
Pale Yellow

Bloom Time:
Late Winter/Early Spring
Late Summer/Early Fall


Other details:
This plant is suitable for growing indoors
Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping
Suitable for growing in containers

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From herbaceous stem cuttings
Allow cut surface to callous over before planting

Seed Collecting:
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed

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There are a total of 42 photos.
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17 positives
9 neutrals
5 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Neutral poeciliopsis On Jan 23, 2015, poeciliopsis from Phoenix, AZ wrote:

Central Phoenix -- There are some large shrub/tree size Euphorbia tirucalli in central Phoenix (at least one at the Heard Museum), but my home is in a cold air drainage making it a marginal plant here. I had one that got to 6 feet before being killed by frost in 2009. A second one was killed by frost in 2013, despite cover. A E. tirucalli firesticks was also killed by frost. I gave up and replaced it with a Euphorbia xantii (Baja spurge).

Negative RJohnson95 On Sep 23, 2014, RJohnson95 from Fort Myers, FL wrote:

This unusual plant does contain that lovely sap that can cause major scarring. When trimming it (because in SW Fl, they get monstrous) always wear protective clothing. I have had several of these plants (most were clippings from neighbors) and in a short time they grew into giants and seemed to take over everything.

Positive DracoVolans On Oct 7, 2013, DracoVolans from Crestline, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

To 1Firestick: DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT USE THE SAP AS A 'CANCER CURE!' Whoever told you this or wherever you found it is full of beans. This is a EUPHORBIA, the latex-sap of which is well-known for being a nasty irritant/allergen for many people. It is a HAZARD, not a medicine. One person far below has even mentioned a study where it can actually ENCOURAGE cancer-growth! NOT a good idea to try it as a cancer-remedy.

That said, I like my little Pencil cactus. I got it as a cutting from a DG member here and it's been growing slowly, but steadily. Perhaps I have it too-low a light. I've moved closer to my NE-facing picture-windows in the hopes it will do better. It's also been in the same little pot for two years, so maybe a re-potting will encourage some action. >^__^<

I was given this as the 'Firesticks' cultivar, but it has yet to go through any colour-changes and I'm not certain why. Maybe I'm not giving it the right conditions, or I simply have the regular green variety. No worries--it's still a cool little plant.

I'm one of the lucky ones who does not seem to react to the sap, but you never know--there may be one out there that will mess me up, so I'm cautious around it.

Positive 1firestick On Jun 25, 2013, 1firestick from Weaverville, CA wrote:

Has anyone used the sap of this plant for skin cancer or pre skin cancer?

Positive MassWarren On May 22, 2013, MassWarren from Desert Hot Springs, CA wrote:

Palm Springs, CA

I have a Pencil Bush that was around 2 ft high, near my front walk when I moved in 25 years ago. I transplanted it to a far corner of the yard near some Oleanders and an African Pepper Tree....and mostly ignored it for 25 years. But I've always loved its unique shape; it is now around 12 feet tall. It has survived high winds and some light frosts. From time to time some stems will turn brown and dry up, becoming very brittle and easy to break off (the only type of pruning I've done). A number of limbs were recently cut or broken off by street crews where they had hung over the front fence.

I saved one (about 4 feet long) and intend to propagate from it. I didn't know it would irritate the skin or be poisonous until I looked it up here just now....I've always handled it with bare hands but will use gloves in the future. I think it is a great ornamental evergreen plant (especially in the desert).

Neutral Nefitara On Aug 28, 2012, Nefitara from Port Richey, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

I would have gave this plant a positive rating, but due to the sap I gave it a neutral. I have 2 of these plants, both in pots. From what I've seen so far is that they do have sap that burns the skin...although for me, it's not as bad as everyone else. I do trim it about every 2 months and yes!...they do grow very quickly, but with all that said, they are beautiful plants overall. I would suggest leaving them in pots, starting with a decent size pot so you don't have to re-pot so quickly. Just wear gloves and/or wash your hands with soap (very good) after handling! DO NOT touch your eyes at all, even if you think your hands are clean of sap! ouchie!!

Negative AdamBeaumontCa On Aug 6, 2012, AdamBeaumontCa from Beaumont, CA wrote:

We live in a Zone 9 environment. We grow this plant in a large container which has helped keep growth under control with an occassional pruning. A word of extreme caution. Becareful during and after pruning. The sap from the cactus is extremely irriating to skin and mucous membranes. My wife trimmed a branch off last week and this morning she was rotating the pot when she caught a dripping from the oozing severed branch in her eye. After flushing with water for 30 mins and a trip to the Emergency Room, she still has extreme pain that could last up to 8 weeks according to poison control.

Positive wimmer On Feb 19, 2011, wimmer from Santa Rosa, CA wrote:

Thank you to all the gardeners who took the time to post their experiences with this plant. I have two of them: one is the green variety and the second is the red-orange variety. I live in Santa Rosa, CA, and both plants are kept outdoors in terra cotta pots from spring through autumn. The green variety, called a pencil plant, is a fast grower and I had difficulty hauling it into the house for the winter. I decided to leave both plants out doors which was decidedly disagreeable for the pencil plant. Although it was protected from frost, the cold temperatures caused it to drop its stems. It is now a third of its summer size. The remaining trunk and stems appear healthy, so, I'm hopeful it will recover. The orange-red plant, called 'fire-sticks', did fairly well with the cold temperatures. Any suggestions how to prune the pencil plant when it returns to health? Thanks

Positive tvksi On Jan 7, 2011, tvksi from Paris, TX (Zone 7b) wrote:

Back in 1981-2 I saw my first PT. It was in a corridor of the church and looked totally dried out, and no leaves. Thought it was dieing. Care taker had died and no one took over, so I did and watered it each week. Took a slip from it and it busted out with tiny leaves and grew to a really interesting speciman! My grown children thought I was a bit balmy using it for a focal point on a walkway. In time, however , it really grew on them and thanks Heaven for that, because I had to get a new start from them when mine gave it up to a freek frost. Now they are also wanting the *red Fire sticks! Love that plant. Am respectful of its toxisity but Figure if we failed to enjoy all the ones that are toxic, we'd be missing out on many enjoyments.

Positive Suzecav On Jul 18, 2010, Suzecav from Hyde Park, NY wrote:

I have had a medium sized houseplant version of this specimen for several years and use it for my Ikebana arrangements. When brushing near it, pruning or cutting stems for use, I *always* have wet paper towel for surfaces and tools, a plastic container of water for the stems (which go RIGHT in until the milky sap stops) and wear gloves when working with it. It has once dropped a drip of sap on my wood shelf; it was extremely hard to remove three minutes later. So, fast is better when dealing with getting the sap off of you, your things and your tools. Other than that, it is an amazing addition to the room in which it is housed, growing nicely and needing water about every ten days (a good soaking at that point).

Neutral melindarella On Jun 19, 2010, melindarella from Corpus Christi, TX wrote:

I love this plant and have success growing it indoors and outdoors. I use cactus soil as my growing medium. I also had a sap incident; but I took benadryl and was fine. I do however treat this plant with kid gloves being very careful to not expose myself to the sap. It is just such an unusual plant it is worth the extra trouble. It also is extremely hardy and will tolerate high heat and direct sun which make it an easy plant for South Texas.

Neutral nomosno On Apr 11, 2010, nomosno from San Diego, CA (Zone 10b) wrote:

This is a striking looking plant but the sap and top-heaviness issues make it less than unending fun. I had one here in San Diego that fell over three times, the last time decapitating a ponytail agave, after which I decided to get rid of it (I don't like to kill plants unless I really hate them so I replanted it in a canyon.)

BTW I have to disagree with the hardiness report of 9a. I lived in NYC before and had this plant in a pot, the first overnite frost, barely below freezing, killed it when I forgot to bring it in.

Positive Kttrost On Dec 27, 2008, Kttrost from Palm Springs, CA wrote:

I inherited this plant when we moved into our house. I love the look of it. In the last year it seems to have become top heavy. Is there any way to correct this? Should I top it? It is potted and outdoors.

Positive Malus2006 On Dec 21, 2008, Malus2006 from Coon Rapids, MN (Zone 4a) wrote:

This plant is very tough for inside a house - the only problem is the sap and the fact that I notice no one metioned below - it is very hard to prune - it have a tough woody interior and the sap gums up the pruning tools.

Negative Kalpavriksha On Aug 27, 2008, Kalpavriksha from Sarasota, FL wrote:

Get rid of these, quickly! In the book: Edible Leaves of the Tropics, 3rd ed. by Franklin W. Martin, Ruth M. Ruberte, & Laura S. Meitzner p. 85, it says, "This plant also poisons the soil by release of a carcinogenic substance taken up by edible plants."
In Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean by David W. Nellis p. 172, it says, "The diterpenoids have shown activity as tumor promoters (cocarcinogens)."
"Recent research has linked the high incidence of Burkitt's lymphoma in parts of Africa to carriers of the Epstein-Barr virus, which has been activated by exposure to the tumor-promoting 4-deoxyphorbol found in the latex of this plant. The relevance of this epidemiological finding to our industrialized world is that the Epstein-Barr virus has been linked to infectious mononucleosis. If you have had mononucleosis, you probably should not mess with this plant!"
Sorry to rain on everybody's parade!

Neutral sandiegojames On Jun 18, 2008, sandiegojames from San Diego, CA wrote:

I'm generally of the "no bad plants, only bad gardeners" slant, but this is one plant that must be considered seriously before you grow it, particularly if you let it loose in the ground. I've seen enormous "trees" of it in West Hollywood, probably 25 feet tall and 40 wide. A cute little cutting can grow into a small monster before you know it--my experience. The roots grow vigorously and can knock over walls. The burning sap is also an issue.

The green trunk with little pencil leaves is a striking presence, for sure. But it doth get out of control easily. The red, "Sticks of Fire," clone is much better behaved, size-wise, and at least as satisfying a plant.

Positive rntx22 On May 15, 2008, rntx22 from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

I love these "pencil cactus". Of course, I have not run in to any of the sap issues yet. They do get heavy and need to be staked. Ours survived the freak snow on Christmas in 2005 just fine. Lost a few limbs, but it didn't stay cold for very long so the plant bounced right back.

Edited to add: It snowed here again recently, and the pencil is turning orange. It's kind of pretty, even though it's probably a sign of damage.

Neutral flmjr On Feb 25, 2007, flmjr from Peoria, AZ wrote:

I am in Peoria, Arizona. There are about twenty of these pencil cactus plants around the yard. In January we had a short cold snap with over night tempuratures in the 27 to 30 degree range. The stems have all turned white and the they are falling off of the branches. The bark is discolored in places. I am wondering if the pencil cacti will come back or are they gone. If anyone has some experience, I would appreciate sharing.

Positive tweety5o On Aug 26, 2006, tweety5o from Tampa, FL wrote:

I just aquired this plant, and while handling it I did not know of it's toxic sap. That's ok, I'll heal. It truely is beautiful. I recommend planting it in a pot for better control. I was told by it's former owner that it was thriving in sand and it can be kept inside.

Positive sjbrower On Mar 13, 2006, sjbrower from Jacksonville Beach, FL wrote:

I've had this plant for about 10 years now. We've always referred to these as "Pencil Cactus". It was given to me by a friend, and I had it in a small pot for a long time. About 2 years ago, I transplanted it to a larger seemed to like the room and really took off! It is about 5 feet tall now, and very healthy. I take the warnings about the sap very seriously and keep this plant away from where people would pass by, but enjoy the interesting shape and look of this plant.

Positive vossner On Nov 1, 2005, vossner from Richmond, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

I have grown mine in a 15 gal pot for several years, trained as a standard. Trunk is about 1" thick. Pruning can be messy because of the sap running all over the place. Fortunately for me it has never bothered me, but reading that it's an irritant, I will be more careful in the future.

Neutral jrbrucejr On Oct 31, 2005, jrbrucejr from Los Angeles, CA (Zone 10b) wrote:

Recently relocated to the Los Angeles area, Silver Lake neighborhood, about 5 miles NE of downtown. Our new property has several large specimens, which exhibit many of the same characteristics others have described. 2 days ago, I "pruned" a large limb, 4-5 ft, and replanted it as a new small tree, and experienced first hand the caustic nature of the sap. I knew that it was sticky, and had heard to be careful. I allowed multiple drops to remain on my skin for 3-4 hours while working in the yard and ended up with rash and blisters on each spot. I also rubbed an eye, due to dust, and fortunately only had severe burning for a couple of hours. The blisters are mostly healed today. The plant grows well, transplants easily, looks cool, but BE CAREFUL. That sap is really Bad.

Positive BayAreaTropics On Sep 22, 2005, BayAreaTropics from Hayward, CA wrote:

Surprisingly fast grower outdoors in cooler Bay Area. Like most "desert" plants, Euphorbias enjoy more summer water than you would think, and respond with lusher growth.

Since its sap seems to be a problem, avoid and prevent it staining itself from drip marks, by spraying with water as you prune.The water also stops the bleeding of the plant. A very simple solution to enjoy a great exotic plant.

Update 2007

The 2007 freeze showed this plant to not be very cold tolerant. Massive damage from a week of near freezing temps. Mid twenties would certainly kill it.
Positive KactusKathi On Nov 11, 2004, KactusKathi from Goodyear, AZ (Zone 9a) wrote:

I have found this plant to be a welcomed addition to my garden. Even though the sap can be harmful if you take the time to cover the wounds with loose soil you will find that the sap stops flowing in no time and thus will not touch your skin.

I have gone so far as to trim this plant for the Holidays with lights and Christmas balls!

Neutral WalterT On Jul 19, 2004, WalterT from San Diego, CA (Zone 10a) wrote:

This plant can cause more trouble than it is worth. What previous note-writers have said is true and shd be taken very seriously. I have 3 "trees" of this evil plant in my garden which I am gradually removing, but the darned things grow fast and I am going to have to speed up my work on them. I am leery of handling them due to last year having had skin and severe but not permanent eye trouble (intense burning lasting 5 hours despite repeated washing) caused by the sap when I first began cutting off branches. Believe me, I wld not consider growing this plant indoors - period. I wld not keep a rabid dog in my house or yard either. The idea of making a hedge using this plant sounds foolhardy to me. WalterT.

Neutral Monocromatico On Jul 18, 2004, Monocromatico from Rio de Janeiro
Brazil (Zone 11) wrote:

This plant can be propagated very easily by cuttings. In fact, almost any bits of it, when reaching the ground, can root and become another shrub. It also grows very fast, and almost nothing can cause harm to it.

It becomes a dense shrub, perfect for hedges, genuine living fences. Unlike other hedge plants, it has no spines or sharp branches, but a very, very toxic sap. It can cause skin burns and irritation to the most sensitive skins, can cause irreversible damage to the eyes, not to mention that it can be an extremely dangerous poison if ingested. The plant become dangerous as it grows, because the branches stay fragile, and tend to fall off under its own weight, liberating the sap over whoever stands close to it.

However, this dangerous sap is being researched for its medicinal properties. It is said to be a multiple role remedy against amny deseases, like cancer, and so laboratories are rushing to find a way to use this plant to cure these deseased without causing damages to the organism.

Positive CatskillKarma On Jul 17, 2004, CatskillKarma from West Kill, NY wrote:

About 30 years ago, my aunt picked a piece of this up from the floor of a greenhouse at the Bronx botanical garden. Since then my aunt, my mother, and all the cousins have grown multiples as houseplants. Any little piece stuck in ordinary potting soil sprouts and gets enormous quickly, impervious to abuse. I've never seen it for sale anywhere, though.

Positive chel97 On Jul 15, 2004, chel97 from Joliet, IL wrote:

I've owned one of these for 5 years, grown from a neighbor's cutting. Makes a great houseplant in a large terra cotta pot!

Negative sparkysmom On May 29, 2004, sparkysmom from San Diego, CA wrote:

We had a huge (30- by 15-foot) tree removed from our backyard on the recommendation of a friend. We were told the white sticky sap burns your skin, and getting it in your eyes can cause temporary blindness (2-3 days). I had gotten some on my arm a few months earlier, and the area looked and felt like a bad sunburn. After several phone calls, we were only able to find one tree removal service who would remove the tree. The others declined the business due to the "burning sap" issues.

Negative palmbob On Aug 15, 2003, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

Though these can make great looking specimen trees in Southern California, they are often trouble in the garden. They get huge in no time (had 1' tall plant become a 100lb+ monster in 5 years) and then they start to break and fall apart in high winds, collapsing on surrounding vegetation. They need to be pruned regularly. And THAT's no fun, either. Being a Euphorbia, they are full of that nasty, sticky sap. It gets all over you, and just brushing up against it will break or damage the delicate tissues causing seepage of that irritating substance. It gets on clothes and is very hard to get out. It gets all over your skin and is somewhat irritation ( note that there is a huge variation in how this sap affects people... many are only mildly irritated by it, like me, but some people react severely to the sap, like my friend, and get blisters from it). But the worst part is it gets all over your hands and should you rub your eyes accidentally (OUCH!!- i did, several times)- that will be an experience you won't soon forget.

This is a super easy plant to propagate here in southern California; just take any larger cutting (or 'falling') and stuff it in the ground.

Before I tired of this plant I would do that all the time, in either a pot or somewhere else in the yard and, so far, have not had an unsuccessful regrowth of a pencil tree. Now I have yanked them all out (or sawed the larger ones down). I have a friend that also has several of these and his soil is very soft/sandy. The entire trees will sometimes topple over in his soil squishing all the surrounding plants. Now he is trying to dig his up, too. So careful about adding this plant to your collection, unless you can plant if far from traffic and support it against a wall or by some other means.

I am very suspicious about the reported cold hardiness of this plant above... reports of damage to it in cooler climates at freezing suggest that though it could tolerate a real cold snap in a warm climate, I seriously doubt it could survive for very long outside zone 9a or maybe 8b planted as an outdoor plant (for example they cannot get this plant to survive even the mildest climates in England)

Positive look On Mar 9, 2003, look from South English, IA wrote:

I've had the pleasure of owning a "Pencil Tree" now for nine years. I began with a 3 1/2" cutting, and have grown eight cuttings successfully into shrubs/bushes with the following method, outside in regular yard soil. (Located in southeastern Iowa)

Keep cutting(s) in shade to morning light, (moist) regular potting soil, feed every 3 weeks with Miracle-Gro (water-soluble fertilizer) for 2 years. Do not change soil for 3 to 5 years, keep soil damp. After five years, move to a larger pot that the shrub will be in for the next 5 or so years, reduce amount of watering to one soaking per week for the first 2 months, then every two weeks. Continue feeding with Miracle-Gro once a month year-round after that.

Move to the full sun (may show signs of shock initially, but will pull it's strength from the sun and it will be over 10 ft. tall in less than nine years. I have only seen 4 (tiny brown flowers) on an outside start in nine years.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

, (4 reports)
Millbrook, Alabama
Goodyear, Arizona
Peoria, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona
Queen Creek, Arizona
Scottsdale, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
August, California
Beaumont, California
Brea, California
Brentwood, California
Clayton, California
Desert Hot Springs, California
Encino, California
Hayward, California
Laguna Niguel, California
Lompoc, California
Los Angeles, California
Mission Viejo, California
Palm Springs, California
Reseda, California
San Diego, California (3 reports)
Santa Rosa, California
Spring Valley, California
Tustin, California
Valley Village, California
Weaverville, California
Bartow, Florida
Brandon, Florida
Brooksville, Florida
Daytona Beach, Florida
Fort Myers, Florida
Fort Pierce, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida (2 reports)
Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Key Largo, Florida
Lakeland, Florida
Lecanto, Florida
Melbourne Beach, Florida
Miami, Florida
Naples, Florida
New Port Richey, Florida
Oakland, Florida
Port Richey, Florida
Rockledge, Florida
Sarasota, Florida (2 reports)
Satellite Beach, Florida
Sebring, Florida
Tampa, Florida
Venice, Florida
West Palm Beach, Florida
Zephyrhills, Florida
Denham Springs, Louisiana
Kenner, Louisiana
Metairie, Louisiana
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Blue Springs, Missouri
Raleigh, North Carolina
Carrollton, Ohio
Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Austin, Texas
Beaumont, Texas
Brownsville, Texas
Bryan, Texas
Burleson, Texas
Corpus Christi, Texas
Deer Park, Texas
Edgewood, Texas
Hondo, Texas
Houston, Texas (2 reports)
Irving, Texas
La Porte, Texas
Lockhart, Texas
Montgomery, Texas
Paris, Texas
Richmond, Texas
Salineno, Texas
Spring Branch, Texas
Woodway, Texas

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