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Euphorbia is the genus name for a group of approximately 2,100 plants. Depending on the species, the plants of the Euphorbia genus are native to Africa, Asia, parts of Europe, and the eastern and southwestern sections of the United States. The plants can be tree-like, cactus-like, or even weed-like. Among the most well-known species is Euphorbia pulcherrima, or the poinsettia. Many species of Euphorbia are toxic, but some species are used in alternative medicine practices.
The sap of many species of Euphorbia can cause irritation to the skin and eyes for people and animals. In fact, there have even been reports that, if a large section of a large plant is cut, it can release toxins into the air, causing people and animals to have breathing problems. As a result, caution should be used when handling these plants.
One species of Euphorbia, E. ingens, can grow large enough to resemble a tree, but on closer examination, it is quite similar to a cactus or succulent. It can grow to 40 feet (about 12.2 m) tall and has yellow flowers that bloom during the winter. It is also called a candelabra tree and, like many plants in the genus, it has a toxic latex sap.
Some plants in the Euphorbia genus are succulents, such as E. obesa. This plant is often called the basketball plant or the gingham plant. It is typically camouflaged by its sandy surrounding, growing best in South Africa. It produces delicate flowers that are approximately a 0.10 inches (about 2.5 mm) in diameter.
The poinsettia, or E. pulcherrima, is a popular plant during the Christmas season, particularly in the United States. It also is quite poisonous, especially if an animal consumes the leaves of the plant. It typically has red leaves that are large and bold with small yellow flowers that grow in clusters.
The weed-like E. peplus originated in Europe, but is now considered invasive in many areas across North America. It is also known as cancer weed or radium weed. It can grow to 12 inches (about 30.5 cm) tall and has green flowers that blend in with the green succulent-like leaves. Although the sap of this plant is toxic, it is often used by homeopathic medicine practitioners to remove warts, sunspots, and age spots. Some research has indicated that the sap may be useful for treating skin cancer as well.
Another plant in this genus, E. pekinensis or Peking spurge, often is used in Chinese medicine. It is sometimes used as an expectorant to soothe coughs. In addition, the roots are believed to reduce swelling in the body and face.
@Rotergirl: I didn't know any succulents were kin to the poinsettia, either. I thought most succulents were all in the same family, but apparently not.
A local nursery had a basketball plant and it was very interesting to see. It's a type of cactus, as the article points out. And it is very round and looks a lot like a green basketball -- hence the name, I'm sure.
Well, what do you know? I had no idea that poinsettias and radium weed were in the same family!
I did know that poinsettias are poisonous and you have to be very careful about having them in the house if you have pets -- especially pets who are prone to nibbling on plants. My cats aren't, but my sister has two cats who will sample anything, and they don't care how bad it tastes, or what it might actually be. She loves poinsettias, but can't have them around -- or put up a Christmas tree, either.
I like the really dark red poinsettias. Those have leaves that look like velvet. I like the cream ones if they're not too green looking. I don't care for the pink kind. They look washed out and anemic, as opposed to just being pink.
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