Plant of the Week
Each week, OGV sub-committee member, Gayle Parkes presents the 'Plant of the Week'. She also posts to OGV's Instagram - make sure you check back weekly for her latest post. This week Gayle brings us the failsafe botanical marvel, Euphorbia rigida.
The genus Euphorbia, in the family Euphorbiaceae, commonly called spurge, is a large and diverse one, native to southern Europe and southwest Asia. It has about 2,000 species of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, and includes spiny cactus and showy perennials as well. However, it is Euphorbia rigida that is my absolute favourite species… I’ve planted it everywhere!!! Like most euphorbias it is tough, drought tolerant, problem free and so easy to grow! Winner, winner!!!
This small evergreen low growing shrub-like gem has steely blue-silver foliage with a pronounced pointed tip. The foliage is handsome all year round with those waxy blue leaves spiralling around the stem. Standing upright and strong, the foliage slowly spreads to form an evenly rounded habit to around 45cm x 60cm.
In my micro climate these fabulous beauties started to bud up about six weeks ago. They are now at their peak, showing off their truly beautiful “flowers”. The flowers are an unusual arrangement and one of the commonalities of the euphorbia family. The showy acid green/chartreuse petals are actually not flowers but modified leaves called bracts. You will notice how bees flock to these showy bracts giving us yet another reason to love Euphorbia rigida! One more benefit of having bracts is that the floral heads continue to be showy long after the “real” flowers, (I think insignificant) have done their thing. These terminal sulphur-yellow bracts, having delighted us with their brilliant show in winter continue to please when they softly begin to age in early spring to a dusky pinky-coral-crimson….. gorgeous!!
After the flowers are spent I always prune out the old stems right to the ground, sometime in December, making way for the new growth. Be careful not to get the milky sap on your skin as it can be irritating, causing a rash. Make sure to wear gloves when handling any type of euphorbia. Keeping that in mind, that same milky sap makes it a great rabbit and deer resistant plant! Like salvias, these plants don’t seem to appeal to their palate!!! Before our move to our now small garden, in my old neck of the woods rabbits gave me grief for at least the last 20 years. Unfortunately, in that area, deer have also found our large gardens irresistible. Although I don’t have to worry about that any more, I can recommend this family of plants to combat those pesky hungry animals.
Euphorbia rigida will gently self sow. I started with one tube purchased from MIFGS so many years ago. I populated my large garden, and now my small one. I have given away so many babies to grateful friends and acquaintances, who in turn have given their babies to grateful friends and acquaintances. I must stress that E. rigida is not invasive. It just pops up, usually just where it is going to look perfect, saying “here I am again”…. Self-sown seedlings of any euphorbias can be transplanted when they are small or they can also be propagated from cuttings in spring or summer. Just ensure the succulent species dry out and callous over and completely stop bleeding before placing them in barely damp sand.
There isn’t a day in the year when this sun loving spurge isn’t a delight. Its evergreen beauty is an excellent addition to the front of your borders, your rock gardens and containers. If you have a sunny dry spot, this versatile plant may be the answer to your problems. Mix it up with other sun loving plants to add texture and colour and enjoy its dramatic long lasting unique flowering.
With such variety of forms and attributes to the extremely rewarding family of euphorbias in our garden centres these days, you are sure to find a variety that will thrive in your garden. Be it big or small, your garden will be enhanced by one of these failsafe botanical marvels.