Giant Euphorbia ammak in Berkeley

bahia(SF Bay Area)March 17, 2011

It isn't that common to see them this large here in the SF Bay Area, as we get so much rain in winter that they tend to topple over. Here's a garden that I often drive past on the way to clients' gardens, and I thought I'd share it. Sorry I can't make the link work more easily...

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Awe. Some.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 3:58PM
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Wow! That's a big one! I would be terrified to be a grove of these monsters. Touch one, and they will attack!

I uprooted my ammak was after only four years in the ground. It was already about seven feet tall, growing more than a foot each year, and was very top heavy. It had tipped over a couple of times during the previous winter. It was just getting waay too big for the small succulent patch where it was planted.

After disfiguring damage from the Great Freeze of 2007 when all the peripheral tissue on the edges of leaves was frozen, it responded by branching everywhere! It had created more than twenty new arms by the end of that summer. If I had left it, it would have recovered completely, with many many new branches, and branches of branches. It may have become spectacular, but would be dangerous.

I decided to remove it, taking precautions to avoid coming into contact with its defensive sap. It's still alive, resting in the shade on a patch of concrete. No soil. It is not growing, but it is still green! You just can't kill these things. ;-)

I think Frank Vincentz's advise not to grow tree Euphorb's because they will eventually get too big and dangerous makes sense. I think they are fine in some garden settings, but for most of us these huge 20 foot tall Euphorbs have to be removed and destroyed at some point.

BTW: Please use this code without the extra spaces after to post long URL. Forcing people to copy and paste will mean some will not bother to look. Use this code to create a short, clickable link :

short name


    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 3:58PM
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I meant remove the extra spaces after the

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 4:02PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Nifty little tree aloe growing behind it, too.

Here is a link that might be useful: here's the link

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 3:57PM
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Here is the pic:

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 5:06PM
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The tree looks great, but that's an arboreal disaster waiting to happen. Let's hope nothing is hurt in the process of thinning it out, whether by a certified Euphorbia sliceranddicer or by Nature. I'd volunteer, but I haven't kept my permit active.

If you know the owner of the property you'd be doing him a favour telling him of the potential for rivers of latex and 30-lb. limbs raining down.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 6:01PM
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That's too nice an Aloe dichotoma to lose to a Euphorbia dropping from the heavens - by golly, I'll get a box of trash bags and some duct tape and make my own Euphorbia Pruning ensemble to save it.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 8:10PM
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So a giant runs ammak in Berkeley.....

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 8:49PM
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For me personally, and for those who do not live where these can grow outdoors, I disagree with Frank Vincentz's advice not to grow tree Euphorbias. I have a few, including a 4 foot E. trigona, and though they can grow quickly, indoors they grow more slowly, and it will be years before they become a problem with being too large. If and when they become so large it is a problem, it is simply a matter of taking cuttings and discarding the mother plant. I am not going to not grow a plant just because of what eventually may happen years from now. If you follow that type of logic to the extreme, I can see people saying, "I won't get a pet, because it will die eventually."


    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 11:05AM
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WEll, whether you should grow these are not obviously is a matter of opinion, but I personally love nearly all Euphorbias, and particularly the ones that become 'trees'. The following are dozens (sorry) of Euphorbia photos from Huntington, or other arboretums in the area, and my yard of some of my favorite tree-forming species, many which I strongly feel should be grown if possible

Euphorbia abyssinica is a nice multisided species that, at least in California, is fairly slow to form any worrisome size.

This tree is one I am not sure if it is a Euphorbia abysinnica or a green E ammak... but still a nice tree

Euphorbia ammak is still a great tree, even if it does get large... it is at least not nearly as likely to drop limbs as is E ingens, but it still can be problematic. However, I find this one, thanks to it's somewhat less agreesive growth, fairly easy to trim back to a managable shape (until super tall, that is... dozens of years later).

I like the look it has when in fruit, too

Here is one of mine showing some 'normal' green color showing up

Here is a green one I purposely grew through some slats to help stabilize

This is an unknown... looks like E ammak, but skinny. Also in my yard, about 10' tall

Here is a pretty rarely grown tree, at least in So Cal, since it's so marginal everywhere... but it can get really tall (these are about 40-50' tall).. Euphorbia ampliphylla. These are so thin-walled that they do minimal damage if they lose a branch.

Euphorbia cooperi is one of the most ornamental of these candelabra types.. and these tend to be pretty sturdy and don't usually get to be the huge monsters they do in Africa... this is definitely a good one to grow... sort of slow, so can take dozens of years to become an actual 'tree'.

Most dont thind of Euphorba grandicornis (Cow Horn Euphorbia) as a tree, and most of the time if grown in full sun, it's not

But in my yard, which has more shade, it grows more upright.. here is mine, about 12' tall and growing- these do need support if grown this way, or they will collapse.

though in India, this gets to be a tree, I am still wondering if it well here... wonderful plant (so far)... this one is about 5 years old and only 3' tall... keeps its leaves year round and is amazingly cold hardy.. .Euphorbia desmondia

Euphorbia grandidens is NOT one of my favorites and it does make an ugly, messy tree... fortunately branches are skinny and do not do much harm if they fall

The big daddy of them all is a pretty 'invasive' plant... meaning it invades areas of the garden where you don't want it to with a loud and devastating crash- euphorbia ingens

This is a bizzare form in Santa Barbara that appears to be melting

this is a much more manageable form, the monstrose form... stays small forever.

a rarer species, Euphorbia kamerunica, sort of looks like E trigona, only less compact

Euphorbia lactea, the Ghost form, is one of my favorites, though trees this size are pretty hard to come by and take dozens of years (in our climate) to get this tall

Though often not thought of as tree, Euphorbia lambii is a great plant to grow... but readily seeds everywhere, so cafeful

Euphorbia magnicapsula is super marginal, and getting it to tree size is nearly impossible... it is a look-alike for E grandicornis

Euphorbia nerifolia can never become a real tree here, but it tries... definitely safe to grow, though.

The variegated form is nice, too

Another popular house plant that few think of as a tree makes a really nice tree and definitely a safe one to grow- E pulcherrima (Poinsettia)

E quinquecostata is another nice pseudotree former... pretty rare and slow, though

another one of my favorites is this Indian species, E royleana

Here in its leafy form... another safe one, but somewhat marginal

Euphorbia stenoclada is a cool but viscious plant... takes a while to be a tree, too... and also sort of marginal (at least in my area... all mine froze to death in 2007)

One of my favorites is E tetragona... nice, neat and compact... still, can get large and drop smaller branches.

this tree former is not one of my favorites, at least not in the non-fire-red form... drops branches all the time and oozes sap with minimal trauma.. and this one's sap seems particularly caustic- E tirucali (aka Pencil Cactus)

Euphorbia triangularis is a messy huge plant that is hard to keep looking nice.. grows to 50' tall in Africa... these are only 40' tall in Santa Barbara...

Euphorbia trigona is not really a tree former, but wonderfully compact nice plant

I like the rubro form of it best... mine is grown in too much shade, which makes its colors nicer, but it is less strong and wind can topple it (hence I have it sort of tied up)

This one is called Euphorbia 'Watusi'.. no idea what it really is, but I have it at the front of my yard

Last is E zoutpansbergensis... a nice but very slow tree-former... mine is only 2' tall and slow, but ornamental. This one is old and in the Huntington

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 2:10PM
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Geoff and Christopher,

I hope you didn't interpret my advice to mean not grow the trees - no, I'm all for them, especially after the simply fabulous tree Euphorbia primer Geoff's given us - wow, what a compendium. After all of those, how many more are there?

I'm going to have to come back here a lot of times to look at it. Those are definitive pictures, aren't they? They don't get much better.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 2:49PM
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That is an incredible defense of Tree Euphobias, Geoff!

An amazing set of photographs. Gratitude.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 3:22PM
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Wonderful photos, Geoff! I had already admired your tree Euphorbia article and some of your other work on another website (DG) and until now, I didn't know lzrddr and palmbob were the same person.

Jeff, I wasnt referring to your post. I just remember reading on Frank's his advice against growing tree Euphorbias and it irritated me. The guy has THE website about Euphorbias on the web, so I was wondering why he would say that, instead of, as I said, just taking cuttings if the plant outgrew the space. I mean in an indoor or greenhouse environment, of course.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 9:02PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I enjoyed seeing the various photos of the Euphorbs from the Huntington, impressive collection there. I am still experimenting with which ones are hardy enough to use for landscaping here in the SF Bay Area, and mostly stick to those that I see around town that have survived past freezes. E. grandicornis is one I'm also using, and E. lambii is one I also like to use quite often, it makes a very fast filler plant while you wait for other slower growing things to fill in. No doubt about it, though, it does reseed readily, but I don't mind working around that for the beauty of the plant.

I wish I could figure out how to nurse E. tirucallii 'Sticks on Fire' through our winters up here, so far I ahve only been marginally successful with one plant on my back deck under rain shelter in winter; left out to get rained on they always simply rot away one stem at a time for me.

I suspect that the reason the big Euphorbia's get so top heavy is that we just get too much rain for them, and can't grow them hard enough. When I use E. ammak variegata, I plant them right up against a house wall or in a very large pot, where they won't get quite so big, and are easier to keep "pruned" of too heavy branches.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 11:14PM
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Lzrddr, great pics, thank you!

One nit to pick (you knew I'd find something :) )'s E. desmondii, not E. desmondia, certainly a typo. And you're absolutely right, neither E. cooperi nor E. grandicornis form trees in habitat.

I was convinced that Huntington's E. magnicapsula was E. grandicornis, but the Susan Carter volume of "Flora of Tropical East Africa" convinced me I was wrong.

Could you do me a huge favor? Post some closeups from the sides and tops of the stems of your E. abyssinica? It's hard to convince people that this is the same plant.



    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 4:25AM
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Don't have any photos of tops of those abyssinicas (not my plants)- a bit tall and in someone else's yard. I should try, though.

If you google E cooperi and look at the photos of it, there are several wonderful photos of this plant as an impressive trunking candellabra tree in habitat... gets over 20' tall and pretty impressive.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 9:16AM
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Interesting that they use both the 'z' and the 's' (which I know to be close in Afrikaans, anyway) to spell Zoutpansberg (I remember an Aloe soutpanbergensis).

Just spent the last few minutes looking at the pictures again, Geoff. What nice trees in the catalog.

So, how many more are there to see? Good thing you've got the pictures - it sounds like your yard can't stand more tree Euphorbs. And I like the slat-stabilizing-tree idea a lot.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 2:12PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

What a resource! Thanks, Geoff!


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 3:16PM
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lzrddr>If you google E cooperi and look at the photos of it, there are several wonderful photos of this plant as an impressive trunking candellabra tree in habitat... gets over 20' tall and pretty impressive.

You're absolutely right. One of these days I'll learn to do my research before I post :)


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 11:14PM
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And why-we see no photos of them at huge sizes in Florida's warm tropical climate with heavy rains and sandy soils.
And E.abbysinnica is also a leaner in heavy rains at some size. But,give up growing them? NEVER!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 3:46PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Beautuful pictures. All my growing will be inside during the winters. Florida has dry winters and wet summers....maybe dryER winters. I grew them ion the windward side of Hawaii ( '71- '78 ) and they seem to take the rain there and heavy soil, but then it is not cold. The rain is often light and then gone and the grade was fairly steep.. I was not a C&S buff back then, and I was not intersted in Latin names (read slacker) at the time but I would get cuttings and stick them in the ground. Anything grows there. my neighbor had a 35 ' Euphoria Ingens (?) And I grew a pencil cactus to 10' in just a few years from a small cutting. I never even knew that the sap was caustic. Luck of the innocent

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 12:10AM
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