Buy a plant
Names: Euphorbia tirucalli - L, African milkbush, fire sticks, kraalmelkbos, Kraalnaboom, milk bush, pencil cactus, pencil euphorbia, pencil tree, rubber hedge euphorbia, stick plant.
Synonyms:Arthrothamnus bergii (Klotzsch & Garcke), Arthrothamnus ecklonii (Klotzsch & Garcke), Arthrothamnus tiruca
Species: E. tirucalli
African Milkbush is an evergreen, succulent shrub (small tree) about 12 meters in height. Is has straight green stems and brances with few leaves and flowers = "Pencil cactus". On a mature plant, the stems look like spikey leaves. It grows at a slow rate. Spacing: 1.8 to 2.4 meters. A density of 10000 - 20000 plants per hectare when grown as a fuel crop.
Zoom for big photo
Flowers: are usually male. The female flower often aborts. Plants with bisexual flowers also occur. Flowering time: late winter/early spring, late summer/early fall (flowers grow in clusters in the apex or angle of the branches during the cooler months of the year). Blooming color: pale yellow / green. The flowers are pollinated by insects.
Foliage: This plant’s leaves are tiny and thin, and you may miss them altogether as they fall off very soon after appearing. When the small leaves fall, they leave scars on the limbs which add to the visual interest of this plant.
Water: The house plant should be watered weekly during the growing season. Take care to provide well-drained soil and plenty of drainage holes in the container to avoid root rot. Cut back to monthly watering during the cooler months.It is better to give too little water than too much. Do not water the newly potted succulent for about a week. This will encourage root growth and discourage root rot.Mature plants do well with a 20-20-20 fertilizer. Younger plants do better with a lower nitrogen rating.
- The cuttings root easily.
The cuttings should be at least 10cm long and should be left to dry for at least 24 hours before planting. The cuttings will take 3 to 4 weeks before you can notice that they have started growing. Give them a little water 1x per week. Outside: plant at the onset of the rainy season in shallow trenches about 20 cm deep where water can collect.
- Its unusual physiology makes for an interesting garden or balcony pot plant.
- Low maintenance.
- It can grow in a wide variety of habitats.
It is hardy (UK Hardiness Map) to zone 9 - 12. It prefers warm, dry bushland thickets, brushwood, open woodland and grassland at elevations up to 2000 metres. E.g. warm, dry regions of tropical Africa, Arabia, Asia, East Haiti, India, Madagascar.
- It can tolerate drought.
It prefers dry or moist soil; a mean annual rainfall 400 - 800mm, but can tolerate 250 - 1000mm. Suitable for xeriscaping.
- It requires a sunny position; semi-shade (light woodland) to no shade. It prefers an annual daytime temperatures are 25 - 37°C, but can tolerate 12 - 41°C.
- It can grow in a wide variety of soils.
Light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay). It prefers lighttextured, well-drained soil. It prefers soils with a pH from acid to neutral; 5.5 - 6.5, but can tolerate 4.5 - 7.5. It can tolerate saline soils.
- The plant can tolerate strong winds but not maritime exposure.
- Plants are very tolerant of trimming and also coppice well when cut at 20 - 30cm height. Under semi arid conditions regrowth is excellent. Prune stems back to the main trunk. Do not chop them off in the middle as this produces an ugly appearance and cause the plant to branch out.
- Suitable for growing in containers.
- With their toxic sap, these plants are fairly pest resistant. Common succulent pests, such as plant mites, colonies of mealybugs, cactus scale and aphids bugs on over watered and weakened plants.
- Weed potential: None
Traditional cultures use different parts of the plant in several concoctions to treat various ailments. (The list is available on request.) Caution should be observed in making medicinal preparations of this plant due to its high toxicity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the risks of a lethal overdose are high, particularly when treating children.
- Hedge plant
Its dense growth and caustic, irritant sap make an effective deterrent to small animals and human marauders from forcing a passage (though sheep and the omnivorous goat are said to eat it in some areas.) The hedge can be easily established with cuttings planted in situ.
- Erosion break
It protects sand dunes and bare soil in dry areas from wind and water erosion. If they are planted like a fence, it can act as an erosion break.
- Land reclamation programmes
It is very drought resistant and efficient in photosynthesis. (It has a unique photosynthetic physiology combining both the Crassulacean acid metabolism and the C3 pathways.) During humid spells when leaves are present, this combination allows high CO2 uptake and, thus, elevated growth rates. Plantations have succeeded in some instances at more than 5,000 ppm in arsenic mine spoil mounds.
- Toys, rafters and veneers
The wood is white, close grained and fairly hard. It is rarely attacked by insects.
Use the wood for fire when better options are unavailable.
- Biofuels (biomass crop)
The latex hydrocarbon is largely a C30 triterpenoid which on cracking yields high octane gasoline. 1-2 tons of crude oil can be obtained per ha per year. Tirucalli. The gross energy value is 17600 kJ/kg. The biomass can be converted into gas, liquid fuels and solid fuels such as pellets, briquettes and charcoal. When planted at a spacing of 1metre x 1metre it produced 120 tonnes/ha fresh material and 14 tonnes/ha dry matter after 1 year, yielding 40 - 88 kg of crude oil, 135 - 213 kg of sugar and 1.8 tonnes of bagasse. There have been plantings in Okinawa which on a spacing of 120cm between bushes are expected to yield 11 - 22 barrels of oil per hectare each year.
Can be produced by anaerobic fermentation of the latex.
The sap has strong fixative power: mixed with animal hair it is used for fastening knife-blades to wood handles and spear-heads to shafts.
The latex is used against Colletotrichum capsici, Fusarium pallidoroseum, Botryodiplodia theobromae, Alternaria alternata, Penicillium citrinum, Phomopsis caricae-papayae and Aspergillus niger.
The latex is used as an repellent for mosquitoes and ants.
The latex is used against parasitic nematodes, Hoplolaimus indicus, Helicotylenchus indicus and Tylenchus filiformis.
Used as an ingredient for bait to kill rodents and other wild animals; the pulped stems are thrown in water as fish poison.
The latex contains light hydrocarbons of molecular weight around 20000, and after removal of the water the residue is a liquid oil. Triterpenic alcohols have also been identified in the latex. A form of rubber is obtained which contains a high proportion of resin: 14.3 - 15.7% caoutchouc, 75.8 - 82.1% resin, dry weight, in material from South Africa.
The latex is an emulsion of about 30% (principally euphol) terpenes in water. During the Second World War the latex was used in South Africa in the development of a rubber substitute, but this proved to be unstable and unprofitable due to the high latex resin content.
The resin can be used in varnishes in the absence of better materials, but only at a high cost. Steam-distillation results in a better product which has found some favour in India in linseed-oil varnishes giving a tack-free glossy finish. An oil obtained from the latex was used in linoleum, oilskin, and leather cloth industries.
Burned wood gives a charcoal suitable for gun-powder and the manufacture of fireworks.
- Arrow poison
In East Africa.
- Ordeal poison
The latex has been used in high doses as a trial in southwestern DR Congo.
- It can not handle frost.
- Plants are not resistant to fire.
- It is unsuitable for intercropping because it suppresses undergrowth, including crops.
- It is highly poisonous.
Contact with the eyes will cause severe irritation and even blindness lasting several days.
Contact with the skin will cause severe irritation, redness and blisters. Treatment: Affected skin should be gently washed to remove as much as possible of the latex. Corticosteroid ointments could be applied.
All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested. Small quantities will cause purgation, larger quantities, emesis. High dosages are likely to be lethal. Symptoms: burning in and around the mouth, irregular heartbeat, skin rashes, seizures, asthma.
The caustic sap contains a latex (white, milky liquid) which has great similarity in composition and activity to the highly poisonous croton seed oil from Croton tiglium. The latex contains tetracyclic diterpenoid phorbol esters, which have been shown to be tumour-promoting. (Their cocarcinogenic effect on lymphoblastoid cells poses a real threat in Africa where drinking water is drawn around the plants.)
The toxicity of the latex is considered seasonal and reduced in young plant parts.
Buy a plant
Zoom for big photo
Buy 1 for R 100 each. Total = R 100
Buy or make a free enquiry
Prices include VAT and insurance.
| Shipping method|| Number of items|| Cost|
| Collect from South Africa, Centurion, Clubview|| any|| R00|
This page has been updated on the 2021-08-22.