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Crown of Thorns: An Interesting Houseplant

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My Fascinating Crown of Thorns Plant

When I was growing up, my mom had a Crown of Thorns plant that always fascinated me with its cute little red flowers and long spikes growing up the stems. I now have my own Crown of Thorns; it has dark green leaves with tiny red flowers and blooms nearly all year round. It has lived with me for about six years now, and it tends to grow very slowly.


One thing I have found out about the plant is that it can be very temperamental. Finding out where the best place to put it and how to care for it took a little time.

For instance, it will lose its leaves completely if put under moisture or temperature stress. I keep mine in the kitchen window, where it enjoys the morning sun and I can keep an eye on its watering needs while doing my dishes.

Not a Cactus

With shoots reaching a height of six feet, the plant is a succulent yet woody climbing shrub with long, sharp spines that can be over an inch long. The reason for the long, sharp spines is that they help the plant 'crawl' over other plants. Interestingly, the stems of this plant are pliable and can be intertwined into a circle and, although it may look like a cactus, the fact that there is no relation was a surprise to me.

In fact, the Crown of Thorns is a member of the family Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. This is a large family that includes such plants as the Poinsettia, Castor Bean, and the Cassava.

Its Historical Significance

Although the Crown of Thorns plant is native to Madagascar, there exists substantial evidence that the species had been brought to the Middle East before the time of Christ.

The common name of this plant alludes to the legend that the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ at the time of his crucifixion was made from the stem of this plant. Today, as a way of remembering the legend, the long stems are sometimes deliberately trained to grow in a crown-like shape.

Watch Out for Its Sap and Thorns

One thing to remember if you are thinking of getting your own Crown of Thorns is that it is poisonous. The long thorns help keep animals and small children away, but accidental poisoning sometimes happens. The sap may produce a rash on susceptible individuals that is very similar to poison ivy.

The sap in some species of the plant has been used for arrow poisons and to stupefy fish for capture. Crown of Thorns is not usually planted near stocked pool because the sap from broken roots can be fatal to fish. The common name for the family, Spurge, comes from the same root as "purge" or "expurgate," alluding to its properties if taken internally. So, despite its poisonous properties, the sap has been used for medicinal purposes in the past.

Even so, I love my Crown of Thorns and would recommend it to someone looking for a beautiful houseplant that is slow growing and easy to care for.

My Crown of Thorns. Its flowers are sticky, so wash your hands after picking up fallen flowers (and leaves).

My Crown of Thorns. Its flowers are sticky, so wash your hands after picking up fallen flowers (and leaves).

My Recommendations to Care for a Crown of Thorns Plant

I myself have not put much stock in recommended growing tips except the most basic: sun, shade, soil. I find a lot of plants are like individuals and have different needs and ideas of how they should be cared for.

  • Sun: I keep my Crown of Thorns in an east-facing window in my kitchen; it seems to love it there. My mother, however, keeps hers in a south-facing window in her front room. Both plants do just fine and bloom in both locations.
  • Soil: There is also a lot of controversy as to which is the proper way to care for certain plants. My Crown of Thorns is such an example. I had to trade the cactus soil for regular dirt as it would not hold enough moisture for my plant and was constantly drying out.
  • Watering: I have a busy life, so I don't always remember to water my plants. I do, however, try to make sure they get some kind of moisture at least once every week to week and a half. I also water all my plants the same way: I put them in the sink, soak them until no more water drains out of the pot, and put them back where they belong. Not very scientific, but my plants seem to like it.
  • Feeding: I also am terrible at remembering to feed my plants and they get fed when I remember, which is probably every three months. The temperature in my house is always changing, so keeping the room at a set temperature for my 'plants' is just not practicable.
  • Making a New Plant: My mom wanted me to start her a Crown of Thorns plant from my own plant and after searching I found lots of ideas on how to do it, but here is what I did. Using a sharp knife, I cut off three branches at the base. Immediately, a thick white 'sap' appeared at the bottom of both cuts (wash this off immediately or wear gloves if you have sensitive hands). I left the one on my plant alone, dabbing it a bit with a paper towel, and wrapped the other three cutting ends tightly in moist paper towel. I kept it moist until the next day and then let it sit out for a day until the cuts 'scabbed' over. After putting the cuttings into moist regular dirt, new growth appeared on the cuttings about six weeks later.

For More Information

  • How to Grow Crown of Thorns Cuttings
    Euphorbia milii, also known as crown of thorns, Christ thorn and the Christ plant, is an ideal decoration at Christmas and Easter. Crown of thorn cuttings also make great gifts--and they're easy to grow.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Lily on December 22, 2017:

can one use this plant to let say deter squirrel from mango trees if u plant them around the trunk?

Nancy Dickerson on October 11, 2017:

I love these plants! They are my husbands favorites. He has had one for over 10 years now. Whenever he prunes it, I start new ones. We have a nursery of them.

I have a question: How do you get the new growths to branch? They are growing and blooming but just growing straight up. I wondered if they exhibit apical dominance? So if I cut the top off, will that force it to branch? Help!

Eco-Lhee (author) from Alberta, Canada on January 11, 2016:

Very prickly, I always wear gloves when I transplant, and that doesn't always help. I have not seen the one from Australia.

margaret on January 03, 2016:

this is one horrible prickly critter. Another version comes from Australia, same flowers, no priclers, anyone know the name of this special one?

Eco-Lhee (author) from Alberta, Canada on February 26, 2013:

Thank you for the lovely comments, D. Farmer, I don't mind at all and have already added a link to your hub at the bottom of mine, let me know if I did it right... new to this :)

FullOfLoveSites from United States on February 26, 2013:

I've seen plants like this and they have beautiful flowers that come in many colors, but now I know the name of this plant. I thought they're like cactus that are easy to manage, but it's far from that. Lovely plant. Thanks for sharing. :)

torrilynn on February 25, 2013:

hi echo-lhee,

really nice hub that you have here

i find the plant that you have showcased to beautiful.

i love flowers and plants but unable to keep them due to certain

reasons. thanks though. voted up

Jill Spencer from United States on February 25, 2013:

Hi D! I like your crown of thorns hub, too. If you don't mind, I'll add a link to your hub in mine. --Jill

smw1962 on February 25, 2013:

Lovely plant! Thanks for sharing this.