Euphorbia tirucalli

Click on an image to enlarge it.
Botanical Name
Euphorbia tirucalli
Euphorbiaceae - The euphorbia family.
yoo-FOR-bee-uh tee-roo-KAL-ee
Common Name(s)
English: Pencil Plant; Rubber-hedge Euphorbia
Kraalnaboom; Kraalmelkbos
IsiXhosa: umhlontlo
IsiZulu: Umnduze; Umsululu
Sesotho sa Leboa: Motlalamela
Setswana: More-ômotala; Motsêtse; Sehlaresetala
Tshivenda: Mutungu
Plant Group
  • Tree A woody, self-supporting perennial plant usually with a single main stem and generally growing more than 6 meters tall.
Plant Size
  • Small
    Tree4m to 8m
    Shrub50cm to 75cm
    Perennial/ground cover10cm to 20cm
    Bulb20cm to 30cm
    Succulent10cm to 20cm
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Drought Tolerance: High The plant is well adapted to arid conditions; it can survive long periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Frost: Tender A plant that will not survive any frost or low winter temperatures.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
  • Wind Tolerant Plants able to withstand the effect of strong winds.
Specific Information

Euphorbia tirucalli is a succulent tree or large shrub with thin, cylindrical, jointed branchlets, with single or multiple trunks. The main trunk and branches are straight, round, woody and brown to grey. The leaves are tiny and are shed early. The flowers are inconspicuous and hidden in a group of petal-like bracts (modified leaves) on the tips of the branchlets. The fruit is a roundish, pink capsule on a short stalk, which splits into 3 parts, revealing the seeds. This euphorbia was used extensively as a hedge around homesteads, the poisonous sap and the dense branching providing an effective deterrent. Euphorbia tirucalli will grow anywhere that the winters are not too cold.

NOTE: As with other euphorbias, the latex is very toxic and may cause blindness, blisters on the skin, and death if enough of it is swallowed.

Ad Break


  • Spring to Summer Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • yellow
Growth Rate
  • Moderate to Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Attracts Birds This plant will attract birds.
  • Barrier Plant A very thorny shrub, tree or scrambler that can be used to create an impenetrable barrier.
  • Boundary A plant useful for planting around the edges of the property to form a green or colourful backdrop, an impenetrable hedge, to hide walls or create privacy.
  • Filler Either a fast growing tree or shrub used temporarily to fill in an area while the permanent plants grow to a desired size, or a plant used to fill gaps in borders or beds.
  • Hedge Suitable trees or shrubs planted relatively close together so that the branches intertwine to create a barrier. This can be formal – the plants are regularly trimmed to produce a neat shape, or informal – the plants are left to themselves to create a natural hedgerow.
  • Pioneer for new gardens A very fast growing plant, able to withstand hardship, that can be used to populate land that has recently been cleared of natural vegetation. These plants pave the way for slower-growing species by adding nutrients to the soil and creating leaf litter.
  • Rock Garden An area constructed of larger rocks, arranged naturally, to emphasise the use of stones as a main element. Generally plants used do not need a lot of care.
  • Screen A tall hedge of suitable plants planted closely together and used as a windbreak, to block a bad view, to separate parts of the garden or as a backdrop.
  • Suitable for coastal gardens Plants adapted to dry, sandy soil, forceful wind, limited rainfall and intense sunlight.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
  • Windbreak Trees planted in a row to form protection from prevailing winds by breaking the force of the wind, thereby reducing wind damage.
Distribution and Habitat

in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo, and north to Ethiopia, in the warmer regions

Planting Suggestions

Plant in a mixture of garden soil and compost. Mulch to retain moisture. Good drainage is essential.

The old method of digging a deep hole and filling it with soil and compost has resulted in many trees failing to thrive, dying, rotting at the base or worse still, falling over in later years due to poor root development.  Refer to the following sites for the best method of planting trees: Planting a tree

International Society of Arboriculture: New Tree Planting

Tree People: Plant the right way

For those of you who have a clay problem try:

Rod's Garden: Planting in clay soil

Medicinal Uses

This useful tree has been frequently used as a hedge around kraals and homes, hence its common name. A fish poison is also made from this euphorbia.

Ad Break

Discuss this plant

Share knowledge, ask a question or give an experience.

Bottom Border