Pencil Cactus, poisonous?

reptilegrrl(z9 Houston)March 22, 2006

I was recently offered a cutting of Euphorbia tirucallii, and while researching ofr care info I found a page that indicated that this plant is VERY dagerous to have around the house/yard:

What do you think? Obviously, I am not planning to eat this plant, but is there really a risk of being squirted with sap? I do have sensitive skin and eyes.

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Yes, when you're pruning Euphorbias (and espcially this one...), be cautious of the white sap. It is caustic and can "burn" your skin if you're sensitive (I'm not, so have never had a problem...) Use gloves and protective eyeware and wash up after handling the plant. Keep children and pets away from it. It's not harmful to grow as long as you know how to handle it properly. I grow lots of Euphorbias (they're all toxic to some extent) and I'm just very careful with the hand-washing.

Denise in Omaha

    Bookmark   March 22, 2006 at 9:49PM
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I had a tirucalli. It seemed to me that it "bled" much worse that my other euphorbias when I cut them. It didn't "squirt," but it dripped and dripped. The trouble is that if you aren't wearing protective gloves, you can think you have washed the sap off, but enough might still be there to cause a lot of pain if you rubbed an eye.
If I could have been sure that no one would come into the yard and break off a piece and be harmed by the sap, I might have kept my tirucalli, but I decided to give it away. (Didn't want to keep it indoors, either, because I have two cats that might take it into their heads to chew on it or break a piece off.) I have a number of other euphorbias that I don't think people would be so likely to break a piece off of, so those are right out there in my succulent garden, and I don't worry.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2006 at 2:01AM
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reptilegrrl(z9 Houston)

I was asking because I have read these accounts of the plant "squirting" sap to a distance when being pruned, and that sounds pretty nasty.

I will definitely be sure to wear gloves and sunglasses when pruning. I also don't want to let this plant get too big- I don't like the way they look when they get really branchy.

thanks, y'all!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2006 at 3:25AM
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jeffrey_harris(San Diego, CA)


Squirting toxic sap - that's a new one, but it goes along with the legendary Saguaro opening up and unleashing torrents of creepy-crawly tarantulas....

A few things I would suggest:

1) It's not a good plant to have around if you have small children and you're not able to prevent any contact with the plant and the children. That said, if you're reasonably careful you won't have a problem.

2) If you're going to grow lots of Euphorbias, you should also grow Aeonium lindleyii - its crushed leaves are a palliative for Euphorbia sap.

3) If pruning lots of Euphorbias (especially the large or very branchy ones), I wouldn't depend on just sunglasses - I'd have goggles. Also spray the areas to cut with a mist of water, and have a bucket of water standing by to staunch the flow.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2006 at 10:21AM
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I have pruned literally hundreds of pounds from this plant. As long as you are careful and remember NOT to rub your eyes, you won;t have any trouble. It never once has done anything like squirt.

Buck Hemenway

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 23, 2006 at 12:04PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Like the picture! - which one is the pencil cactus?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2006 at 9:53PM
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jadegarden(z11 Caribbean)

I'd say the E. tirucalli is the big one in the middle of the photo with the sort of reddish looking ends. It's fabulous - makes me want to get mine in the ground right away so it can really achieve its potential.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2006 at 10:06PM
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What I thought was my pencil cactus doesn't look like this photo. I got mine in New Orleans, brought a piece back in my suitcase. Now it's huge (for a house plant--4' tall and very branchy.
The plant is like very thin green sticks or rods, thinn as a #2 pencil. I love it, but must give it away if it is poisonous. Recently my 6 year old mini macaw died mysteriously--necropsy did not show anything toxic in its system but I want to be sure my African Gray parrot does not eat it. Can you tell me if this is also a pencil cactus?

    Bookmark   November 18, 2006 at 10:16AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi MG,

I think you should provide a picture if you'd like to get it IDed. When you snap a branch, does it bleed white sap? Why don't you just give it away to be sure.

Do you cook w/ Teflon or non-stick pans, I've heard those can be dangerous to pet birds as well.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2006 at 10:50AM
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Ok poisonous or not what do you do after it got hit with winter frost - yes in AZ during Dec

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 6:16PM
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Yes, they are highly toxic. Just one tiny drop of the milky sap flicked into the eye, and you are in for a world of hurt and an emergency room visit

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 6:43PM
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The one in the picture is I think called "Firesticks"...I have the all green version, and this is a very cool plant! Mine was less than a foot tall when I got it and taller than me now. It does drip, but I have never had it squirt me, and I prune it every year so it doesn't get out of hand. I'd love to get my hands on the red one, been on the lookout for a while, no luck yet..

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 8:04PM
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mokikat(z9 FL)

I warned my husband to be very careful if he pruned this plant but he ended up breaking out in a rash on his arms and
he had to go to the doctor. Be careful with all plants in the Euphorbia family.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 10:52PM
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Message to Ines is a link to purchase Firesticks (the red one)...

Here is a link that might be useful: Cactus Collection

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 11:02PM
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Nope. Not poisonous at all. Not even the slightest bit of irritation... but I guess that depends on you. It's more a matter of allergy than poison. Some people even find grass irritating to the skin. Poison Ivy is the same way. Not actually Poisonous, just irritating to those allergic. I say allergic, because not everyone actually is allergic. There are many people who don't get a reaction from Poison Ivy. The same can really be said of anything. You name it and someone is allergic and someone is probably immune.

Personally, I think you should just expose yourself to a drop on your skin right near a sink, with some anti inflamatory drugs handy. (some would object to that, but it's better to expose yourself intentionally in a controlled situation than accidentally in the garden.) If there is no irritation at all on your bare skin, then you should be fine, if you experience any, then wash your hands quickly and don't cultivate it.

For me, and all the people I personally know, there has not been any irritation at all. On the contrary, it feels cool to the touch. The milk also flatten moles into the skin with just a drop left on, and a few applications will remove skin tags. In my home we use it as a cureall for many different skin ailments.

But then again, mine is a bit unusual. Most will loose their leaves right after new growth. Mine retains it's leaves after new growth, and they continue to grow larger and fuller. And old growth actually seems to self prune. An end will shrivel then fall off without a mess. So maybe there are varieties among even the same kind of Euphorbia Tirucalli.

Note: The attached image link was not photoshopped. It's just that the bright green of the leaves react with the flash to create a glow.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 17, 2009 at 6:57PM
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Nearly lost my eyesight from this plant.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 1:40PM
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