Plant of the month – Euphorbia
The family Euphorbiaceae is the sixth largest family of flowering plants on the planet. The genus Euphorbia makes up by far the greatest proportion of the family, and with 2160 known species it is the largest plant genus in the world.
Euphorbia species can be found growing on every continent except Antarctica, exhibiting a huge range and variety of forms and plant types. Most of what we grow in our gardens come from Europe, the Middle East and temperate Asia including the Himalaya. Many are evergreen and provide excellent foliage colour and interest throughout the winter. All Euphorbia flowers are unique in having neither petals nor sepals. The main floral colour comes from a modified leaf known as a cyathium leaf, commonly called a bract. These colourful leaves do the job of the petals. They attract insect pollinators and can be lime, yellow, gold, orange, or red in colour.
Euphoria will grow in most well drained soils and will tolerate a wide range of pH values. As a general rule they will be happy with some sun, shelter and reasonable drainage. The main flowering period is April to June but there are species that flower throughout the summer. After pollination, the seeds ripen into a three-sectioned fruit capsule, each section containing one seed. They remain on the plant; drying and shrinking until they burst open with an audible crack and propel their seeds in all directions. The only down side to growing euphorbia would be the milky sap which is a skin irritant and has been known to cause blistering too. Because of this its best to wear gloves and keep your skin well covered up when carrying out any pruning.
Euphorbia is a valuable addition to any planting scheme providing seasonal interest for pretty much 12 months of the year. There is a variety to suit every garden scheme and practically every aspect in the garden too. If you have space then the larger varieties like Euphorbia characias “Wulfenii” create fantastic drama in a mixed planting scheme. If you have a smaller garden then something like Euphorbioa “Martinii” would be better suited. If you need some good ground cover for a shady position then Euphorbia amygdaloides var. “Robbiae” would be ideal.
My favourite combination would be to drift Honesty (Lunaria Annua) through drifts of either Euphrobia “Wulfenii” or “Martinii”. The violet purple flowers of the honesty are offset well by the lime greens of the Euphorbia. Other combinations would include other spring flowering plants like Brunnera, and Pulmonaria. However the seed heads from the euphorbia last well and combinations with summer flowering herbaceous plants like Astrantia major and Salvia “Carradonna” or “Purple Rain” work just as well. Not forgetting Ornamental Grasses like Miscanthus Adagio, and Calamagrostis acuitiflora “Karl Foerester”, the textural contrasts between the foliage types provides interest for more than half the gardening year.