Are You Aware Euphorbia Plants Have A Secret That Can Be Dangerous?

by | Feb 12, 2020 | 2 comments

Are you aware euphorbia plants have a secret that can be dangerous? It is euphorbia sap or latex.

Often, people send me articles or interesting tidbits they read about houseplants. Today I was sent a Facebook post about a small child that ingested a piece of Euphorbia tirucalli most commonly known as pencil cactus. She presented multiple symptoms from the sap, including vomiting and confusion, but is doing fine, according to the post.

Recently, a friend on a plant tour touched a euphorbia leaf, later wiped his eye with the back of his hand, and also ended up in the hospital. He he is fine, thank goodness.

So, let’s discuss what you should know about euphorbias. The plant below is the same type of euphorbia the child ingested.

Ehphorbia tirucalli
Pencil cactus or Euphorbia tirucalli

Euphorbia sap

Euphorbia plants contain a white sap or latex that cause the problems. The most common injury occurs when the sap gets into an eye. Here is some more in-depth information from the Indian Journal of Opthalmology, with cites cases of eye injury from specific euphorbia species.

Latex could cause blindness, so it is important to get medical help as soon as possible if you do get the sap in your eye. A burning sensation and pain are the most common symptoms, but each plant can cause different reactions.

These symptoms can occur by touching the plant so wearing gloves while handling them is a good idea. I have never had that problem, but everyone is different.

My experience with euphorbia sap

I have had my own experience with the sap from a euphorbia.

Many years ago I was in a garden club and we were having a flower show. I took my Euphorbia lactea cristata to enter the judged part of the showand as I was placing my plant in the show area, I bumped it. A small amount of sap oozed out in a couple of places.

Like a mom plastering down an errant piece of hair on a child’s head, I wiped the dot of sap off the plant. I then licked my finger and wiped the next one and my mouth and throat immediately started burning. If I died, which I didn’t, I told my friend it would be from the plant sap.

I soon felt fine, but it was scary, and I was glad my friend didn’t have to tell my family I died from licking plant sap off my finger. Euphorbia sap was new to me, but I learned about it quickly.

Euphorbia sap is white and can be dangerous

Read more about my euphorbia below here.

Euphorbia lactea cristata
This is my Euphorbia lactea cristata that I have had for many years

More euphorbias

Remember to check the Latin name of the plant because the common name most likely will not contain the word euphorbia and there are many in the plant world.

Pictured below are a few different euphorbias and the most well-known euphorbia is the poinsettia or Euphorbia pulcherrima. The sap can cause irritation like the others, so definitely don’t get it in your eyes or mouth.

Poinsettia or Euphorbia pulcherrima
Small euphorbia lactea cristata vareiegata
This is a small Euphorbia lactea cristata variegata

Another well-known euphorbia is the crown of thorns or Euphorbia milii, which have been hybridized to have different color “flowers” (bracts) other than the normal red color. The pink one below and the variegated foliage of the next one make them more collectible to some people.

crown of thorns
Pink crown of thorns or Euphorbia milii
Vareigated crown of thorns
Variegated crown of thorns or Euphorbia milii
Euphorbia decaryi var. decaryi
This is Euphorvia decaryi var. decaryi , a small collector’s plant

The take-away

The point of this post is to let you know that:

1. You should know what kind of plants you are bringing into the house, especially if you have small children or pets,

2. Don’t lick your fingers if you don’t know what is on them or what it may do to you, 

3. Don’t put your fingers in your eyes if you have anything on them, and

4. Enjoy your plants, but know what you have and if it could harm any loved one in your life, be they human or a beloved pet. A good resource for a list of poisonous plants to animals can be found here on the ASPCA website.

Have a great week, plant friends!


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  1. Cathy Streett

    I learned about this on a tour at Cantigny Park. The person pointed out that he had rubbed his eyes as well and ended up in the ER. Best to know what you are dealing with. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Wouldn’t that be awful, Cathy?! I had never thought about it and I handle my euphorbias all the time.


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