I love tending my houseplants, and this may be the easiest-to-care-for and most forgiving plant I've ever owned.
How to Care for Euphorbia trigona as a Houseplant
- Ideal Placement: Euphorbia trigona love bright sunlight. A south-facing window is an ideal location to place it, though an east- or west-facing window will also work.
- Sun: They require at least four hours of bright, indirect sunlight per day. Can also thrive in partial shade.
- Temperature: This plant will suffer in temperatures below 55°F. If outside, bring your plants outdoors from spring to late autumn.
- Pot and Soil: Being a succulent (not a cactus!), this plant requires well-draining soil in a pot that drains easily, as well. The pH of the soil should be from 6.1 (mildly acidic) to 7.8 (mildly alkaline). I use Miracle Grow potting soil for mine and it does just wonderfully.
- Water: Euphorbia trigona like to dry out between waterings. Dip your finger about an inch into the soil: if it's damp, you can wait on watering; if it's dry, you know it's time to water again.
- Flowers: It's less likely for an indoor plant to bloom but, with ideal conditions, look for white or yellow flowers during spring or summer.
- Repotting: It will need to be repotted every two to three years or so.
- Pruning: If your plant gets too heavy, consider pruning off the arms (and propagating those clippings to make new plants).
You can easily turn one small African milk tree plant into many, especially since sharing it with friends and family is said to bring good luck. Who doesn't like good luck?
Always use thick gloves!
To propagate this plant, you will need a thick pair of gloves, not only to protect you from the prickly spines but as protection from the plant's toxic sap. Any cut portion of this plant will secrete a milky-white, sticky sap that is a skin irritant. Be careful not to get any of the sap on your skin and, certainly, keep it away from mucous membranes.
I heard a rumor that someone got some in their eyes and lost their vision for a couple of days. How terrible that would be! I have gotten the sap on my skin before but washed it off promptly and had no bad reactions.
How to Propagate an African Milk Tree
- Using a pair of scissors or garden pruners, cut an arm off at the base of its stalk.
- Rinse the cut end under running water.
- Some recommend dipping the cut stem into rooting hormone, waiting a couple of days, and then planting it in special soils, but I have never taken these extra steps. I always place my cutting directly into Miracle Grow potting soil and have never had a cutting not root for me this way.
- Check the soil every day for moisture to ensure it stays moist (but not soggy).
- The cuttings will root within a week or two.
About the African Milk Tree Plant
If you would like a low-maintenance, beautifully exotic houseplant that looks tropical, this ones for you. I believe it just may be the easiest to care for plant I've ever owned. It's possibly been the most forgiving plant I've ever owned, too.
Are there other names for Euphorbia trigonia?
Its botanical name is Euphorbia trigona. It is sometimes also referred to as African milk bush, African milk tree, candelabra cactus, cathedral cactus, friendship cactus, good luck plant, or good luck cactus.
Is it a cactus?
Although it resembles one, the African milk tree is not a cactus at all, nor is it a bush or a tree. It's a succulent plant native to central Africa.
How does African milk tree grow?
It is known for rapid and enthusiastic growth, and Euphorbia trigona can grow to heights of six to eight feet. The plant has thick, three-sided stalks with spines along its edges and cactus-like branches, or arms, that grow upright from the sides of the stalks. Small leaves cover the edges and ends of the actively growing stalks and arms. It is a lush green plant with lighter green striations through the stalks. Leaves are a sign of health, so a plant with many leaves is happy.
Euphorbia trigona rubra or Royal Red:
There is also a variety of this plant known as Euphorbia trigona rubra or Royal Red. It's essentially the same plant but with beautiful, deep red leaves. It's a cultivar of the green Euphorbia trigona plant. (A cultivar is different than a hybrid as environmental changes cause a change in the DNA of the cells.) The Rubra or Royal Red are cared for in the same manner as the Euphorbia trigona. It's a nice looking plant that adds a pop of color anywhere you place it.
Other Information About Euphorbia "Cactus"
Here's some advice on how to handle various issues that might arise with your Euphorbia.
How to prevent a Euphorbia from falling over:
Since these plants grow so tall (up to eight feet) and have small root systems, they can sometimes become so top-heavy that they fall over. You can use stakes to help hold them up or, if so desired, you can cut the top portions off to lighten the plant's load. Propagate these removed stalks by cutting horizontally across one of the stalks.
People oftentimes resist cutting stalks off because the plant will no longer have a rounded appearance on top, but it can be done so that the leaves will grow along the cut portion, making the horizontal cut virtually unnoticeable.
One of the main reasons they tip over is over-watering. Trim and stake them, but definitely ease up on the watering as well. I say this because the only time mine began falling over was after I had left it outdoors. It had rained for a couple of days when I noticed it falling over. Its pot did not have any drainage holes, so my euphorbia was completely submerged in water! I used stakes to prop it up. Once it dried out, it became sturdy again.
Yellowing leaves is also a sign of over-watering. The leaves will turn yellow and fall off of the plant. This plant seems to do better being too dry than too wet. When too dry, the leaves tend to look dry and begin to shrivel and brown.
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.
© 2012 liataylor
Judy rondon on August 08, 2020:
I just buy this plant and I noticed that it has several brown spots everywhere. Could u guys tell me what is the reason? And can it tolerates hot sunlight?
Max Vernon on May 16, 2020:
what do i spray on my African milk tree once a year ?
Tina on April 21, 2019:
What kind of pot is good for this plant. I currently have it in a ceramic on but it’s top heavy I was wondering if I should get a deeper one
Gil on October 20, 2018:
I have this plant outside in the planters for over five years and grown over 8 feet tall. The plant has at least 7 or 8 branches from the ground. It rain and I had the sprinklers on , so the branches were bending, I thought it needed water and I water more. I just realized the error after reading here. I help the plant holding the branches with strings. I may use stakes to help or replant branches and give them as gifts. It is a beautiful plant.
Roxcyanna Ringen on September 01, 2018:
My milk plant is over eight foot tall. Doing great. To move in and out of home every year it takes 3 people and a moving cart. I have perfectly standing tall. To keep it up right I have it in it msin pot yhen set into a larger container with sand in the bottom and around pot to stablize. It works
Shahrzad on June 04, 2018:
Should I also water spray my red euphorbia trigona when it’s time to watering?
eehchristie on January 29, 2018:
I have had great success with this plant, but it just doesn't seem to have expanded its root ball since day 1. I have cut it down before but am now struggling again to keep it standing. Any suggestions. I can't even see how a stake would work (and it would be ugly). It practically needs a scaffolding.!
Casey on January 26, 2018:
I recently bought one and repotted it and immediately the next day the leaves started to turn yellow and fall. Is this normal or not
Linda Miller on January 07, 2018:
My Tiger cactus Euphoria was hit by frost. Many branches were drooping. We brought it in & I am trying to save it by using a hair dryer, & cutting off the drooping branches. Many branches are oozing sap. Do you think it can recover? It’s 4 ft tall, if I cut it down low, do you think it will grow again?
C C on November 01, 2017:
I have just acquired a 8 foot tall cathedral cactus or African milk plant.
In transporting the root ball was disturbed in pot. I have since secured the plant. It is in a large window with south to west light.
2 days ago I gave the plant about ½ -3/4 cups of water. The pot it is in is 12-14 inches high and about 19 inches wide.
Today I noticed the leaves are turning yellow and some are shriveling. This is occurring all the way to the top of the plant. Too much or not enough water?
The moisture meter read dry prior to watering and now reads dry. Prior to watering I have had plant 1 week.
CultureatGreen on October 24, 2017:
Very very helpful and informative article. I was looking for this information. Thanks a lot for sharing the Trigona info. Keep it up !! Great work !!
Cara on September 28, 2017:
I was wondering if you had any tips for a Euphorbia cutting whose base hasn't kept up with the growth of the rest of the plant. The base was a cutting from a very old Euphorbia (almost 30 years old) and while it has done very well with new growth, but the base has remained the same size. It's about 6 months at this point. Do you think it should be cut down and restarted or will eventually "grow into it"? Thanks!
Ali Emami on September 20, 2017:
it would be nice not to promote monsanto miracle grow - there are much bettter alternatives
Ellen on September 17, 2017:
I have a beautiful 12ft wrapped in heavy ivy to hold together..its been 4 years since i purchased her from an estate sale. I believe its time to transplant her into a bigger pot. My problem is going about it...have any ideas. I thought about placing the pot into a larger one and breaking away the old one. I dont want her to break.
liataylor (author) on July 05, 2017:
When you're unsure about watering, it wouldn't hurt to wait a couple more days. The euphorbia is a succulent and they hold onto water.
Jamey on July 03, 2017:
I don't know how to leave in full sun outside in summer and control watering. .I usually tho my plants put back, and let nature do its work, I have a hundred plants or so and it's something I'm still figuring out...I have one of these and seen a neghibor down the road has a 8ft one!!
liataylor (author) on March 08, 2013:
Thank you so much. I agree, it certainly is an interesting plant and really easy to take care of as well.
Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on February 17, 2013:
Welcome to HubPages! That's an interesting plant I don't know that I have ever seen before. Thanks for the info! Voted up, useful and FB shared.