How to Care for Fire Sticks Succulents
This instructional page was prompted by actual events. Nothing brings home a fact more than true life stories.
It is winter and my favorite time to work in the succulent garden. It is nothing fancy, because the plants are placed haphazardly as acquired. The "sticks of fire" succulent was a one gallon specimen when I planted it about six years ago. Now, it needs serious tending almost twice a year. In this article, I will share the tips and tricks I've learned from personal experience that will help you grow and maintain your fire sticks succulents.
Needs and Growing Habits of Euphorbia tiruccailli
- Euphorbia tirucalli "Sticks on Fire" is best propagated from stem cuttings. Please keep in mind "sticks on fire" is toxic. Take precautions when handling this succulent.
- The location of fire sticks should allow for full sun year round.
- Water very sparingly. It is very drought tolerant. Less water helps control growth.
- I have not given the plant any nutrients and have not needed to fight off unwanted bugs. It is easy to take care of in Southern California.
- I heard rumors about a plant being used for fencing in Mexico? Fire sticks grow forever and can eventually be tree-sized.
- If the plant is simply topped, growth is encouraged to become thick up and down the whole trunk. If the plant is too tall, rip it out and start a new cutting.
- The color of the plant may be the reason for its name, but if you get its white sap on your skin, you will find another reason to call it "fire sticks." It hurts!
- Since this succulent can develop a woody trunk, it might be advisable to replant the whole bush with a new cutting every three years. If you do, it will remain small and manageable.
Growing Tips and Tricks
- Thick older branches develop tough cords inside. A sharp clipper can be used.
- Every branch you remove can be used for a new plant. Let the end dry for a day and simply put into soil and watch for new growth.
- The plant grows new red branches in the winter and adds color and interest to all succulent gardens.
- Add small branches of red color to pot arrangements. It brings height, color, and textural interest. Let it dry out for a couple of days between each watering.
- Since it is a vigorously growing plant, it will need more replanting than other succulents.
The easiest way to enjoy this colorful plant is in a planter or pot with other succulents. Planters and decorative pots, requiring replanting each seasonal is good method for keeping this succulent at a manageable size.
Do not get the sap near your face and eyes. Wear long sleeves to avoid getting sap on your arms. This plant can be enjoyed if the sap is safe inside the plant. My dog has never licked or bit into the stems or branches and has not suffered illness just because he has explored under it or near it. He is a smart dog, though, and has never became ill because of landscaping in the yard.
How Much Sunlight Does It Need?
This plant requires that you plant it in an area of your garden that gets 4–6 hours of bright sunlight a day. Sunlight should be available year round. These plants are native to sunny places and should not be grow in places with long, harsh winters.
How Much Water Does It Need?
"Sticks on fire" has typical watering needs for a succulent. It’s best to use the “soak and dry” method—allow the soil to dry out completely between watering.
Things to Consider Before You Plant
The fire sticks succulent gets too big and is too toxic to have where kids or unknowing adults may break off a stem and get exposed to the sap. I am hearing eye irritation stories more and more, so watch the toddlers and curious youngsters when walking the neighborhood. Don't plant this succulent near public walkways, because the stems are tender and break very easily.
Gloves Are Essential When Trimming This Succulent
The gloves are washable too. Put them in the laundry if too dirty or sappy. They fit snug around the fingers and the arm shield guards against pricks and sap. They are made by a baseball outfitter.
What to Be Aware of When Trimming Succulent Fire Sticks
New branches are tender and can easily be removed by breaking them off by hand. Be cautious, because the sap running from the branches can irritate eyes and skin. Even little flying droplets can become a painful episode.
A cool day in the garden seemed like a good time to thin branches. I know the white sappy stuff is toxic but have worked on the plant before without any problems. I did not have long sleeves or gloves on. The next day, I had a rash on my arm and the side of my face. It was itchy. So, a word of caution to all Euphorbia growers: the sap can cause rash and eye irritation!
Note: Lisa from Los Angeles says in the comment section below that Benadryl seemed to stop the severe eye irritation from the sap quickly. I had a second eye burning incident and I swore the plant was coming out. Full goggle eye protection is going to be used for the next trimming.
Sap causes serious burning to the eyes!
Where Should I Plant a Sticks of Fire Succulent?
Euphorbia tirucalli is perfect for container gardens. It grows quickly, so it may need to be repotted more frequently than other succulents. It will display the most color during winter months. Make sure to plant it in an area of your garden that gets at least 4–6 hours of bright sunlight a day.
Your Euphorbia Experience
Have you tended euphorbias?
What are fire sticks succulents?
Scientific Name: Euphorbia tirucalli
Fire sticks succulents have a wide distribution in Africa. They are prominent in northeastern, central, and southern Africa. They may also be native to other parts of the continent. They may also be native to the continent's surrounding islands and the Arabian peninsula.
This shrub-like succulent has bright red, pink, orange, or yellow stems. It grows well in container gardens. However, due to its toxicity, it should never be planted where there is a lot of foot traffic. It grows well in dry areas, and, in other parts of the world, it is used to feed cattle or as hedging.
Fire Sticks Facts
- They require full sun.
- This succulent is deer and rabbit resistant.
- They are not suited for indoor growing.
- They require the typical water needs for a succulent.
- The plant grows up to 8′ (2.5 m) tall.
- The plant grows up to 5′ (1.5 m) wide.
- The temperature zone is 10a (Minimum 30° F | -1.1° C).
- It propagates by cuttings.
- It's toxic to humans and animals.
- It actively grows in Summer.
Why are fire sticks succulents' tips red?
Plants are green due to their chlorophyll. During "stress periods," the amount of chlorophyll will vary. During the winter stress period, this succulent explodes with color. It glows almost fluorescent in shades of pink, coral, green, red, and orange. In areas where the night time temperatures begin to fall into the 40s, or near freezing, many of these plants begin to “stress” and this results in their rosy colors.
Are fire stick plants poisonous to dogs and cats?
Pencil succulents, including Euphorbia tirucalli, are toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. They can cause serious intestinal injuries and skin injuries.
How do you transplant a fire stick plant?
You should place the fire sticks succulent carefully when transplanting. Add or remove soil as needed. Yo'll need to replant it at the same soil depth it sat in its previous pot. Make sure to fill the area surrounding the plant's roots with soil. You'll need to gently pat that soil until it is firm. Then, make sure to water the soil until it is thoroughly moist.
How do you root Euphorbia cuttings?
Make sure to put the cutting into a moist rooting medium, then place it in the shade to root. During the summer months, make sure to take cuttings from semi-mature stems.
- Haevermans (2004). "Euphorbia tirucalli". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. International Union for Conservation of Nature. May 2006.
- "Euphorbia tirucalli L." Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). March 2010.
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.
Questions & Answers
I live in New England, but it’s currently summer time and it’s like 90-100 degrees out. I have this fire stick cactus outside in full sun for the past few days. There are a few little leaves on top that are red, but the plant in its entirety is still totally green. How long does it usually take for these guys to color-up?
As long as you know you have the "red" variety, don't worry. Cut or break off old green branches to encourage new growth. New growth means more red. Lots of sun is best. Don't over water. Warning! Be careful to protect eyes from the white sap.Helpful 23
I recently bought a house in southern California that the previous owners didn't really take care of. The yards have become jungle-like including a firestick plant that is about 15ft tall with multiple thick trunks. I've been slowly cutting the smaller branches off but I'm thinking I'll need to eventually cut down the entire thing as it is leaning over into my neighbor's yard and not very attractive at that size. Any suggestions on the best way to do this? Sawzall? Hand-saw? Ladder?
Any saw will be okay on the trunks that have become hard and woody. Avoid using a saw on branches that still drip sap. Sap droplets are very painful for the eyes. We cut our huge plant down at the main trunk and then cut it up for the trash barrel. The trunk sprouted again in a month. I kept breaking off the new sprouts, and eventually it dried up. The trunk still needs to be taken out. A little at a time is okay too. Save a colorful branch and replant, but replant every two to three years to keep it manageable. You can not plant and forget about the firesticks. Growth is too vigorous. I hope you have fun bringing the landscape back into shape. Small manageable firesticks would add beautiful color.Helpful 1
My plant is too big, and it is falling over to one side. What can I do?
It is probably too top heavy. Break off branches along the trunk and thin out the top. Be careful and do not get your hands near your face until they are washed off of all traces of the sap. Stake it for a month or two if it is still leaning, or pull it out and replant a healthy-sized branch from the original. Fall is a good time to do this because it is not too hot. I seriously advise not to let firesticks get too big because it will get a thick woody trunk. Soon you will be looking at a tree-sized plant.Helpful 22
I have a beautiful firestick that was doing very well, but it rained and now it seems to be paler than before and has what looks like burnt/drying/ cracking on some of its limbs. It is in a pot that is not too big or roomie and does not look to be wrinkling. Am I overreacting? The rain was a week ago today and I have not watered it since. I live in Los Angeles and other than the rain the weather has been great. What am I doing wrong?
Once a firestick plant reaches a maturity the oldest branches and trunk become woodier. The plant is aging and the main limbs will form a bark and the inside of those limbs will become like wood and have a fibrous nature. There is no stopping this mature growth. I do not think firestick is a good plant to train into a bonsai, but jades are kept for years in pots. You could nurture it like a bonsai with replanting and root and limb trimmings. (Beware of the sap!) There may be a point where you will want to just select a lovely branch from the mother plant and start anew.Helpful 34
I'm in Southern California at about 3,000 feet, it does get down to 30-35 degrees sometimes, should my fire stick succulent come inside?
If your plant is near your house it should be ok during the occasional over night freeze. Cover it with a newspaper tent if it is going to be any cooler than 30 degrees.Helpful 17
© 2014 Sherry Venegas