What is the point behind a plant resembling a bunch of dead sticks? The Euphorbia platyclada is a plant that fools its predators by appearing as if it’s already dead. Pretty smart, right? So how do you care for this extremely weird plant?
The one below is mine and I’m not sure how old it is but I’ve had it a long time. As you can see, it is big! My husband isn’t as excited by it as I am. He thinks it is ugly and let’s face it, it kind of is, but I love it! It is so unusual and it is a bit unattractive, but that’s the point! It is trying to look dead to save its life. It’s one of the opossums of the plant world. An herbivore walking by looking for something to graze on is going to keep walking. Exactly what the dead stick plant is hoping for!
This plant is a Madagascar native. It lives in a harsh environment where there are small amounts of rainfall throughout the year. Therefore it needs to store water in its flattened stems and conserve it for periods of drought. Since there is so little water in the habitat, herbivores and other predators in the area are looking for water and know that it is stored in plants. But, if they see a bunch of dead sticks, they will keep walking, looking elsewhere for a water source. Perfect!
The Euphorbia platyclada is an easy plant to grow. Give it as much light as you can and it will reward you with stick-like, crazy growth. It will be the hit of your next party and everyone will want one…..or they will think it is the ugliest plant they’ve ever seen. My plant is in my sunroom at the southwest corner and it has grown in leaps and bounds over the years as you can see above. My good friend, Julia Hofley, has hers in an unobstructed west window and is growing well. With enough light, Euphorbia platyclada has this perfect pink blush. If you like pink plants, this plant is for you.
I give it a good drink when it is dry and it does well. Because it is a succulent, it could go a while without a drink, especially if it is in a lower light situation. Mine is growing in a well-drained potting medium and I may need to up-pot it this spring. It has been in its pot for a long time and could use some fresh potting medium and possibly a larger pot. There may be a lot of stem breakage when I repot it because it is so large, but I’ll be as careful as I can be. I will be wearing gloves and an old shirt or an apron to protect myself from the sap and will be repotting it outside so the drips can be washed away with the hose.
With enough light, it will flower, but I will be honest, I had never noticed that until now. If you look at the left picture below you can see the flower forming on the end of a stem in the upper right-hand corner. It is small and hard to see, which is probably why I never noticed any. I’ll be paying better attention from now on.
If you look closely at the middle of the left picture below, you will see there is a drop of white sap on one of the stems. All euphorbias when cut, bleed a white substance that contains latex, so be careful not to get any in your eyes or mouth. If you want to propagate your euphorbia, cut off a few stems, carefully wiping off the sap. Let it callous over and then plant it in a moist potting medium. Use a few cuttings to make for a fuller container. One stem would work, though.
In the right picture, the brown wrinkled stem is dead and I will trim it away. It is hard to tell the difference between the living and dead stems, but as you can see it is all one color instead of the mottled green/pink of the living stems and is wrinkled because it has no moisture left in the stem.
A collector’s plant
This plant is one you might not readily find at your local greenhouse, but make sure to look for it. I’m sure you could find one online, but I always check my local garden center first. Euphorbia platyclada isn’t for everyone, but if you like unique plants, this is definitely one for your collection.
Have a great week, plant friends!!