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 or if it has red tips, sticks on fire. She presented multiple symptoms from the sap, including vomiting and confusion. She 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.
Euphorbia plants contain a white sap or latex that causes 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. The 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. Different species can cause different symptoms, but a burning sensation and pain are the most common. These symptoms can occur just by touching the plant so wearing gloves while handling them may be a good idea. I have never had that problem, but everyone is different. Better safe than sorry.
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 into the judged part of the show. When I was placing my plant in the show area, I bumped it, and 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, licked my finger and wiped the next one. My mouth and throat immediately started burning and I told a fellow garden club friend if I died it would be from the plant sap. I soon felt fine, but it was scary for a minute. I was glad my friend didn’t have to tell my family I died from licking plant sap off my finger. I never knew about euphorbia sap, but I certainly learned about it quickly. Thank goodness it was only a drop or the outcome may have been different.
Read more about my euphorbia here.
There are many other euphorbias out there. Remember to check the Latin name of the plant because the common name most likely will not contain the word euphorbia. The pictures below are of a few different euphorbias. Probably 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.
Another well-known euphorbia is the crown of thorns or Euphorbia milii. They 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.
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.