Euphorbia horrida


Here below are some synonyms of the name “Euphorbia horrida”:

Euphorbia horrida var. horrida
Euphorbia horrida var. major
Euphorbia horrida var. noorsveldensis
Euphorbia horrida var. striata


Euphorbia horrida is native to South Africa, where it inhabits the lower Great Karoo. The great Karoo is a semi-desert natural region of South Africa, defined by extremes of heat and cold and low annual rainfall. It hosts many fossils of an ancient well preserved ecosystem and tons of succulent species.


Euphorbia horrida is a succulent plant growung up to 75 centimeters- 1,5 meters in height. Though its unfortunate name, horrida, meaning precisely “horrid” in latin, it is sought after by succulent enthusiasts, as it definitely looks like a cactus, though it’s not. Cacti, in botany, are all the species belonging to the family of Cactaceae. Euphorbias, instead, belong to the family of Euphorbiaceae. This is an example of convergent evolution: species which are totally unrelated from a genetic perspective, develop a similaar morphology to face similar environmental condition in different geographic areas or even different continents. Euphorbia horrida, in fact, looks like a cacti that branches at its very base and producing numerous, abundant branches. The branches are 2-3 centimeters thick and 20 to 30 centimeters in lenght. They are erect or slightly curved upwards, light grey or bluish-green in colour, and are divided into 10 to 20 ribs, deeply grooved between each other and slightly wavy. From each bud, 1 to 4 erect, stiff, reddish-brown spines grow, very alike the cacti’s spines. There are also some ephemeral leaves, in the center of the plant, though barely visible. Flowers, like in all Euphorbias, are the Cyathias.´A cyathium (cyathia in the plural form) is one of the specialised false flowers forming the inflorescence of plants in the genus Euphorbia. In E. horrida they grow solitary, scattered along the branches, usually close to their top, on the crests of the ribs. Cyathia are enveloped by special structures that look like the petals of regular flowers, called cyathophylls, that, in this species, finely haired and equipped with 5 glands and 5 large lobes.
Euphorbia horrida is a suitable host plant for a beautiful species of mistletoe, called Viscum minimum. It is a parasitic plant growing within the stem of the plant.


Euphorbia horrida is a tough plant that is easy to grow. Here are some tips for successful cultivation:

Place it in a location with bright light, but avoid direct sunlight during the hottest hours of summer. Indirect or filtered light is preferred.
Keep the temperature above 5-8ºC, as this species is among subtropical Euphorbias and is more cold-tolerant. Ensure that the substrate stays completely dry during the Winter to prevent rotting.
Water abundantly but infrequently in Spring and Summer during the growing season, waiting for the soil to dry completely before each irrigation. Suspend watering during the Winter and Autumn.
Choose a well-drained soil, such as a mix for succulents.
Fertilize once a year with a product rich in Phosphorus and Potassium and low in Nitrogen. Dilute the product to half the doses recommended on the label.
Repot the plant when it outgrows its pot. Choose pots that are only slightly larger than the diameter of the plant, such as 1 or 2 centimeters wider.


Propagation of Euphorbia horrida can be achieved through both seeds and cuttings. For cuttings, you would use woody branches. Before planting them, it is important to wash them with warm water to remove the latex, let them dry for a couple of days, then replant them in a light, sandy substrate that should be kept moist until roots have formed. This process can take about a month. To increase the chances of success, it is recommended to use a rooting hormone. Seeds are not commonly used as this species has a low percentage of self-fertility and seed production is scarce. Cuttings are a more reliable method for replacing any eventual losses.


The latex of Euphorbias is often used in pharmaceutical industry because of its medicinal effects. Euphorbia horrida has even a common name, “African milk barrel”, referring to the particularly abundant latex exudating from the stem of this species. Euphorbia horrida is a species of succulent cactus-like plant, native to Tunisia and Libya. It is also known as Snake Cactus or Snakeskin Cactus because of the pattern on its stem. It’s also a favorite of many wildlife species such as birds and insects, which feed on its nectar and seeds

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