As we move into the warmer (ahem, hot) months, we gardeners are busy filling our baskets, beds and pots with loads of blooming plants and when we are not, we are certainly day-dreaming about it. Those vibrant flowers at the stores and nurseries look so enticing this time of year that, if you are like me, you inevitably try new and exotic species with your fingers crossed they will survive. Sometimes we are lucky and come across an alluring plant that actually exceeds our expectations. Allow me to introduce you to the Crown of Thorns, or, Euphorbia milii.
Incidentally, I began drafting this post about a month ago and since then, the Crown of Thorns has doubled in value in my opinion. You see, while my husband and I were on vacation a couple of weeks ago a huge wind storm popped up and blew our rather hefty, 3.5 ft Crown of Thorns into the swimming pool! There it remained submerged in 5 feet of chlorinated water for two days before we arrived home to fish it out. I felt sure the plant would not survive this trauma as euphorbias, or succulents, generally do not like to be over-watered – let alone submerged. Upon retrieval, I quickly drenched the soil in the intact pot with tap water to flush out any residual chlorine. I then allowed the plant to dry out completely for 10 – 14 days. It indeed dropped a few yellow leaves the first few days but it is now sprouting new leaves and flower buds.
So, while I’ve started this post with the very rare occurrence of 48 hours of total water submersion, it speaks to the resiliency of this beautiful plant – although its resiliency is truly of the opposite trait – drought tolerance.
While I’m thinking of it, please don’t be dissuaded by the “thorn” portion of this plant’s name. There are indeed thorns upon the plant, and they are many, but when the plant is immature the thorns are “soft” and will bend instead of pointedly pricking you. As the plant matures, the thorns will mature as well. However, I understand from my research there are new cultivars developed that have fewer and softer thorns. Most likely the plants you find in nurseries today will be of the “fewer thorns” variety.
The Crown of Thorns is a tropical succulent originating from Madagascar. It is related to poinsettias, spurge and other euphorbias, some which are often visually considered cacti. A common attribute of euphorbias is they produce a milky sap that is somewhat poisonous. Think about the white sap you experience when you accidentally brush up against or pinch a poinsettia. It is thought this poisonous sap may be the main reason euphorbias are almost pest free.
Heat and drought tolerance, as well as low fertilization needs, are also wonderful traits of the Crown of Thorns. It can endure full sun, sea-salt spray (and apparently chlorine spray as we have ours next to our pool) and extended dry spells. In fact, its soil should be allowed to completely dry out between waterings. Interestingly, Crown of Thorns blooms best when under fertilized. Once established, it truly needs very little attention. There are not many plants you can say that about!
The Crown of Thorns is a perennial in Zones 10 and warmer, and in my case (Zone 7/8) I bring it indoors to ride out the coldest months of winter. There has been one occasion when my Crown of Thorns dropped its leaves as I moved it indoors, but come springtime when I placed it outside, the plant very quickly re-leafed. It is thought extreme temperature changes and/or water changes cause rapid and, sometimes, total leaf drop, but usually, unless a deep freeze has occurred or root rot has firmly set in, the plant will remarkably fully recover when the issues are corrected.
Now that we have the growing and care details out of the way, I’d like to brag about the beauty of this tropical plant. The most common color of the Crown of Thorns, and perhaps the most predominate, is that of the salmon-red variety – very much a “tropical” color in my opinion. Another color found naturally is yellow. As this plant has become a bit more popular, other flower color varieties have been developed, such as white and pink.
I admit I was a little puzzled some of the articles I researched stated the flowers of the Crown of Thorns are somewhat inconspicuous. Au contraire, I find them very vibrant and numerous! I suppose compared to a mandevilla or hibiscus, the flowers are indeed small, but unlike those tropicals, the florets of the Crown of Thorns bloom simultaneously and are extremely long-lasting. They stay upon the plant for months and simply do not fade- even in the Texas sun.
Another nice attribute of the Crown of Thorns is its growth habit. I have mine situated in a terracotta pot in full sun and not only has the main stalk grown strong and upright, it has uniformly sent out stems that gracefully extend outward in a slightly draping manner, similar to a mini Christmas tree, if you will. And while I prefer the Crown of Thorns grown in its natural form, I recall seeing it as a hedge when visiting Puerto Rico a few years ago. I admit at the time I did not know the name of the plant but I found it delightful that in their tropical climate they could utilize a blooming plant for a hedge.
As I complete this post on Easter Sunday morning, it does not escape me that I am writing about a plant fittingly named the Crown of Thorns on this holy holiday. Mentioned previously, the Crown of Thorns originally derives from Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa, however the plant is known to have migrated into the Mediterranean countries prior to the time of Christ. Euphorbia milii is indeed believed to have been the plant that crowned our savior.
My Crown of Thorns is a poignant reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and, while I remain amazed at the resiliency of this beautiful plant – perhaps I truly shouldn’t be.
P.S. Special thanks to my friend and co-worker, Jason, who introduced me to this plant several years ago by sharing a cutting from his Crown of Thorns.