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What is Euphorbia Tirucalli?

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  • Written By: B. Koch
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Euphorbia tirucalli is a type of hedge or small tree most common in Africa. It is noticeable because of the many short, pencil like branches that grow from its main branches. The sap of the plant is toxic and contains latex. Euphorbia tirucalli is also known as the pencil tree plant, rubber hedge, and the milk-bush.

Euphorbia tirucalli can grow in many different types of environments, from grasslands, rocky areas, along rivers and in open savannas. This plant is typically about 10-16 feet (3-5 meters) tall but can reach up to 33 feet (10 meters). Euphorbia tirucalli have multiple trunks with small, pencil-like, light green succulent masses at the end of each of its branches, creating a distinctive shape. The plant produces small leaves as well as tiny yellow flowers during certain times of the year.

Although they are most in Africa, Euphorbia tirucalli can be found all over the world. It prefers warm regions and can be found in India, Indonesia, China, and the Philippines. It is believed that early traders transported these plants from Africa to different parts of the world.

It is not uncommon for this type of plant to be cultivated as a hedge. It may be planted surrounding homes or around areas of livestock. The plants keep mosquitoes and other intruders away and can also act as a wind barrier. It is because of this use that Euphorbia tirucalli is sometimes called the “rubber-hedge.”

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This plant can also be grown by the private gardener starting from seeds or from cuttings. They may be grown indoors or out, but they thrive best in a warm climate. In cooler areas it is best to keep the plants potted so they can be moved indoors when weather becomes colder. They can also be kept indoors all year long as houseplants, and can be trimmed and shaped to desirable proportions.

The sap of the Euphorbia tirucalli plant is poisonous, and if ingested it can be fatal. If the sap comes into contact with the skin, it can cause blisters and irritation. Due to its toxic properties, the sap has been used as a fish poison in Africa. Broken branches are placed into rivers, filling the water with poisonous sap. The stunned fish can be easily caught.

The sap of the plant also contains latex, and at one time it was thought that this latex might be useful for creating rubber. After much study, it was discovered that the latex contains too high a percentage of resin and that the process of creating a usable rubber would be a difficult and expensive and would create a low-quality rubber.

Many scientists are investigating Euphorbia tirucalli for its potential as a biofuel. It is thought that one hexacre of Euphorbia tirucalli could produce up to 125 barrels of fuel per year. This fuel could be produced as a liquid, such as gasoline, or as a solid fuel, such as pellets or briquettes.

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