Monday, February 22, 2010

Crown of Thorns

Posted by: Dawn

The Northern United States is in the mode of "February Freeze". February Freeze is the time when the temperature is at its coldest of all year. It hasn't been too bad though except for the lack of snow here in Maine it's been pretty warm. However, not warm enough to get things growing in the garden or yard.

So, to combat boredom as a direct result of cabin fever I let my mind wonder to the many houseplants I'm caring for. I say caring for because most of them won't live on sheer neglect as is my usual M.O. A classic one is the Crown of Thorns my mother gifted me almost two years ago.

Crown of Thorns or Euphorbia milii is believed to be native to Madagascar. King Juba II (50 BC to 19 AD) was the first to identify it. Euphorbia was the name of the King's Greek physician. Milii is named for the governor who introduced its cultivation into France in 1821.

Crown of Thorns is presumed to be the plant used in the crucifixion of Jesus. The stem is very pliable and easy to form wreath-like circles which lay atop Jesus' head. It's the only plant with sets of double thorns.

I was amazed to read that Crown of Thorns is actually a spiny, woody, succulent, considered a tropical shrub (Zone 10) that will trellis to six feet if trained to do so. It will flower colorful bracts at the end of the stems usually situated in a nest of double leaves. The bloom ranges from less than a BB size to 1/2''. When this succulent is not happy it will defoliate it's leaves leaving doubles on the tips. When happy it will bloom all year long. Mine sat near my deck doors for almost two years until I had to move it at Christmas to make room for a tree. Lo-and-behold it started sprouting all over. For two years I believed it was dying as nothing changed about it. I decided that if it liked this view better than the other it could remain in its new spot to hopefully thrive. Crown of Thorns is also related to it's famous cousin, the poinsettia. Perhaps that would better explain it's touchiness.

Finally, this plant is a member of the Spurge family and being such it weeps a sticky white sap when injured or pruned. The sap is the primary ingredient in latex and will cause a rash much like poison ivy. In earlier centuries the sap was applied to the ends of arrows and fish were caught this way. It is for that reason you will generally not find any Crown of Thorns planted around fish ponds as a broken root will kill every fish in the water. The sap and entire plant is highly toxic when ingested; which gives it protection from hungry herbivores.

(Does it really need it!?!)

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team,

In the Garden


  1. I would think herbivores wouldn't touch this plant anyway:) Thanks for all this interesting info, Dawn. Euphorbias are really a diverse family of plants!

  2. This blog takes
    massive times to

  3. The plants has soft stem and mostly water. Having thorns all over allows them to survive in this competitive habitat. The flowers are nice ~bangchik

  4. This is yet another plant that I admire in other gardens but have yet to purchase one...

  5. My mom had a Crown of Thorns years ago. Truly a thorny plant! Great infomation about it and its history. thanks!

  6. Hi Tina, it sure is pretty in bloom. Looks kind of forbidding without the flowers. Herbivores aren't especially bright. My horses happily munched multiflora down to the woody part of the canes every spring:)

  7. Sorry, I should have said hi Dawn and Tina and Skeeter. Sometimes I don't look closely enough to note who wrote the post.

  8. I had no idea about this plant at all. Mom keeps saying she'll give me some but there is not enough sun here for it and one more houseplant might not make it. As it is mine are struggling and got spider mites. Urgh! The info about euphorbias is cool. I happen to love this genus. I've never had a reaction to the sap but do try to be careful. The red of your plant is awesome!

    Everyone have a great day! Marnie, no problem on the poster. It can be tough with us rotating. Horses eating multiflora-they must taste good!

  9. Yours sure does look healthy and happy Dawn. If you want more, I have plenty. Mine is so big everyone complains about it getting them when they walk by it. In fact, it is so big that even I am getting to the point that I am ready to cut it down to nothing and start over. I have been thinking about it for a few years but do not know what to do with it all as I have a problem throwing plants away and it would take at least 100 pots to pot it all up. Every year at Christmas I have to move it (which is a major job) away from the big picture window and it very quickly loses a lot of leaves but they come right back so yours was probably not getting enought light before you moved it. Even when it loses it's leaves, it still will have a few flowers on it. It is a power workhorse of a plant. Elizabeth took some back with her a few years ago also and I am looking forward to seeing what hers has done when we go down for her wedding.

    Very good info on the plant. I knew about the crown for Jesus but most of the other I did not know and it was very interesting. Thanks.

  10. Hi Guys,
    Rose, I would think they wouldn't touch this plant either, but I thought the same thing about my holly. Uck. Can't imagine a deer eating them down to a stump but they did. Grew back okay tho
    Antigonum Cajun, I only post here once a month so it's easy to put everything into one post. My sister and Skeeter post mostly and they do put alot of thought into the info. Not sure on the massive time, maybe they can better answer, both are pretty well informed.
    Bangchik, I never would of guessed about this plant being mostly water, I was very surprised.
    Darla, I found a photo of the shrub and it is beautiful.
    Janet, you welcome and thanks back!
    Hi Marnie, You would think those hungry herbivores would learn! Guess not, must have a tough mouth. Completely understandable on the mix-up.
    Tina, I don't think this plant needs much light, I think it likes the filtered light, I have it in my picture window and there is not much light there. ?
    Mom, I'd love a large pot of this if you go to cutting yours down. I hear ya on throwing away plants, I not sure anyone can!

  11. Dangerous and beautiful? I'm a fan. I've got one named Ellie - she puts out butter colored bracts. Thanks for sharing the info!

  12. Beautiful weekend and now raining again in GA. Just what my yard does NOT need. Grrrrrrr..

    Amazing how such a thorny thing can produce beautiful blooms! Like a rose... I don’t like thorns plus my cats would be an issue if toxic so no crown of thorns for me. I will admire yours instead. Do your cats stay clear of them Dawn???

    Jean, I know what you mean about tossing plants. I have a difficult time when bringing in the porch plants in the winter. The Pothos (Philly look-a-likes) must be trimmed and I have such an issue with tossing the healthy stems that I end up potting them. I have a house full of them! Sure look great on the porch in the warm season but difficult to keep from the cats during the winter inside….

  13. What an unusual plant. Pretty and dangerous all wrapped up together! It looks as though it likes it's new home.

  14. I like this plant. I think it's very pretty. I had one that was doing fine but someone relieved me of it. Yep, stole it right off my little front porch with 6 other plants. Sure hope who took it got ate up with the thorns. lol
    I hate to throw plants out too. That's why I have Pathos growing all over even up sides of house. That is in with the Spider plants.
    We're to get more rain today which we don't need. It is getting much warmer.

  15. I love this plant. It is so beautiful, especially when in flower. We are able to grow it outside year-round in the desert and it is a very versatile plant.

  16. Liza, I found that this shrub has alot of colors and even bi-colors, it is dangerous and beautiful.
    Skeeter, yep, my cats steer clear of this plant, they seem to enjoy my palms, argh! Lately it's my D-O-G that's eating what is green since everything is frozen outside. I hear your in for more snow?
    Catherine, I can only hope for a few flowers, that would be so nice!
    Lola, How awful! That's one of those times you imagine the plant tipping over when the get-a-way car sped around a corner!
    Noelle, I bet this is really beautiful in the desert, some of the garden photos (with this plant full)were breath taking.

  17. I don't know this one, but it sure looks like a dangerous beauty (perhaps "A. Jolie" would be a good nickname). LOL


  18. A beautiful but poisonous plant with dangerous thorns! This plant is just daring its enemies to try anything. Tina, be careful!

    I hope my blogger profile is showing up now. Thanks again for your help.

  19. Oops, just realized this was posted by Dawn, not Tina, so Dawn, you be careful of those thorns!

  20. Hi Cameron, lol! Yep, that nickname would fit!
    Debs garden, That's ok about the posters, I'm here once a month so it's easy to mix us up and I will be careful! Thanks!

  21. Hi Dawn, this is quite a plant! I knew nothing about it. Seems like the type of plant you might have a love-hate relationship with! I see all the good points to it, guess you'd have to weigh the pros & cons--but the flowers sure are pretty. Wonder if it would be 'the' indoor plant I should have to keep my cat away? He is a plant fanatic, so probably not a good choice for me as I wouldn't put it past him to actually eat some of it.