How to Care for Fire Sticks Succulents

Updated on July 14, 2019
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Sherry has maintained homes and landscaped yards for 48 years in Southern California. She has collected water-wise succulents for 12 years.

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.

Full Grown Firestick
Full Grown Firestick

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Add Color to the Succulent Garden With Fire Sticks.My full grown plant. The trunk is about 4-5 inches thick and well established in six years.Fire sticks succulent close-up.
Add Color to the Succulent Garden With Fire Sticks.
Add Color to the Succulent Garden With Fire Sticks.
My full grown plant. The trunk is about 4-5 inches thick and well established in six years.
My full grown plant. The trunk is about 4-5 inches thick and well established in six years.
Fire sticks succulent close-up.
Fire sticks succulent close-up.

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 gallery below shows the gloves that I have in the garden shed. I always wear them for roses and sago palm trimming, but failed to think of them when I attacked the sappy Euphorbia plant.

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.

WARNING:

Sap causes serious burning to the eyes!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Always Use Full Goggles When Trimming Firesticks.Rash from Euphorbia tiruccalli, Sticks of Fire succulent. It cleared after four days.My favorite garden gloves. They also come in wrist length.Evidence of the sap. It drips freely. BEWARE.
Always Use Full Goggles When Trimming Firesticks.
Always Use Full Goggles When Trimming Firesticks.
Rash from Euphorbia tiruccalli, Sticks of Fire succulent. It cleared after four days.
Rash from Euphorbia tiruccalli, Sticks of Fire succulent. It cleared after four days.
My favorite garden gloves. They also come in wrist length.
My favorite garden gloves. They also come in wrist length.
Evidence of the sap. It drips freely. BEWARE.
Evidence of the sap. It drips freely. BEWARE.

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.

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FAQ

What are fire sticks succulents?

Scientific Name: Euphorbia tirucalli

Origin: Africa

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.

This planting is getting unmanageable.
This planting is getting unmanageable.

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.

Sources

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

© 2014 Sherry Venegas

Any stories or questions to add in the comment section?

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    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      6 weeks ago from La Verne, CA

      Hi Debra, I have heard that the red in firestick is strong in the winter. During the summer it goes dormant and needs less water. Give less water for the summer. When cooler temps come around in the late fall cut off the biggest oldest branches for the growing season that starts then. The new growth will be red for the winter.

    • profile image

      Debra 

      6 weeks ago

      I live in Phoenix AZ in the desert. My fire stick was a beautiful orange [in March] until 2 months ago [May] when it turned dark red and then white. I water it twice a week. What may be the problem?

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      7 months ago from La Verne, CA

      Carole, Over night freeze will damage succulents. Put it under a patio if it is potted. Sometimes covering the plant with cloth or brown paper during the freeze may help minimize damage. Give it water when there will be no freezes for a week or more. Leave the plant alone till spring generates new growth and trim off any areas that do not have new growth. You can always start a new smaller plant with a healthy clipping. Be careful of the white sap. Sherry

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      7 months ago from La Verne, CA

      Have you had over night freezes?

    • profile image

      Carole 

      7 months ago

      I am a snow bird in Chandler AZ. My fire stick plant was beautiful orange in Nov and now it is Jan and it has turned a pale brown and the branches are limp and feel water logged.

      What should I do ?

    • profile image

      Ken 

      10 months ago

      Planted three this afternoon. Spent the next 2 hours in urgent car. Left eye felt like a hot poker in it. Heed the warning, Becareful!!!!!!

    • profile image

      ANNIE 

      12 months ago

      I live in Iowa and ordered firestick succulents from an online site. They were beautiful when they arrived and have them inder several grow lights inside with my other succulents which are thriving. Sadly they have all broken off . I water every two weeks. Whats goin on?

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      18 months ago from La Verne, CA

      Alicia, two weeks ago I reexperienced the same thing. Every time I blinked I thought I was destroying the eye. It seems that more eye washing or more eye drops of any kind made it worse. I paced around the house in hand shaking pain for 3 hours. After the episode was over everything was fine. Sorry this happened to you, as well. I am seriously thinking about removing our plant. Will wear full proctective goggles for the next trimming.

    • profile image

      Alicia 

      18 months ago

      I was trimming one of the Fire Stick plants in my yard. I threw it out in garbage, came back to get another branch and a new shoot had broken off and a tiny drop of sap got close to my eye. I used an eye cup to flush out my eye but the burning continued to intensify. Called my doctor and he told me to go to ER. My neighbor drove me to the hospital. I felt as though my eye was on fire. The ER doc called Poison Control, and my eye was continually washed out for more than 20 minutes. This was the most painful experience I've ever had. The pain lasted well over 6 hours. I had prescriptions for drops, an ointment and several pills: for pain and inflammation. I saw my eye doc two days later and I still felt pain in my eye socket. My eye sight is ok and the pain slowly dissipated and lasted just a few days more. It was one hell of an ordeal. I plan on taking my 4 plants out of the yard. I will be wearing protective glasses, long sleeves, gloves and long pants. Such beauty, but not worth it!

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      22 months ago from La Verne, CA

      Robert. At this point we are relying on information about your experience. I have yet to see experience with breathing or swallowing the white sap. If you come up with more conclusions with this wacking let us know.

    • profile image

      Robert in San Diego 

      22 months ago

      Well, i just something "stupid" it seems, the plant was big & touching the house *allowing access for many baby ants...so i took a 'weed-wacker' & fixed the problem...now i have an acidic taste in of my mouth ;( i wonder if i ingested some mist from the plant... just gargled with baking soda...called Poison Control Ctr he didn't seem to think i needed to take any Benadryl sp... ** Lots of info on touching your skin but not ingesting the stuff...Any home remedies are Appreciated, Thanks Robert

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      22 months ago from La Verne, CA

      Lisa Thank you for the Benadryl tip. That is good to know because the irritation tends to last up to 20 minutes or longer.

    • profile image

      Lisa from Los Angeles 

      22 months ago

      My mother was breaking off some pieces and transplanting them. she was not wearing gloves and pushed the hair back out of her eyes and Instantly her eyes began to burn, her face around the eyes, cheeks,nose and forehead started swelling,her nose began to run, and she couldn't see. She began flushing her eyes with running tap water, that helped a little,then tried eyewash,then ice packs. Finally what worked was BENADRYL. within 5 minutes...she was better.

    • profile image

      Karen from SydneyAust. 

      2 years ago

      Got sap in my eye today, been in hospital having eye irrigated for 3 hours, red and has similar characteristic to chemical burn... very itchy and feels gritty... I'll live though

    • profile image

      Tammy 

      2 years ago

      They are lethal to pets! Especially if ingested!

    • profile image

      Mariette 

      2 years ago

      Eileen, I am sure they will do well in Australia. Our similar dry climate in South Africa, makes it an easy plant to grow and spectacular colour to your garden

    • profile image

      Eileen Faucett 

      2 years ago

      Hi there, these plants seem very nasty, do they grow in Australia? Thanking you in advance, Eileen

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      2 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Thanks Catzz61 for this observation on the changing of the red colors.

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      2 years ago from La Verne, CA

      These plants can become a tree, so pull out and replant with a large slip to keep it manageable.

    • profile image

      Annekie 

      2 years ago

      Is it wise to plant a big fire sticks plant close to a wall? Can the roots do any harm to the wall?

      Thanks!

    • profile image

      Catzzz61 

      2 years ago

      I have this plant in Phoenix and it is doing GREAT! It is on the watering system and gets full sun until 9am-4pm, The change in color only happens when it is COLD, then it goes to it's normal succulent green. Not sure about the dog thing, you can check the ASPCA website for poisonous plants. I wear gloves and long sleeved shirt to trim and take cuttings...the cuttings have done well also due to being on the same watering system.

    • profile image

      LILLY 

      2 years ago

      Is this plant toxic for dogs if they chew or eat it and can it cause dogs serious problems?

      If so can you please list the problems.

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      2 years ago from La Verne, CA

      You are the second to have this problem. My plant gets full sun and water once a week. Are your conditions the same? Is it in a pot?

    • profile image

      Martha 

      2 years ago

      My fire sticks have lost the fiery color, is there anything like plant food, fertilizer that can b given?

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      2 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Hi Rose Marie, My plant gets all day sun. Do you see shriveling of the branches? Guessing, I would say the water is not at a good level. Too much, say from lawn sprinklers. If that is not the case, make sure it gets a watering once a week.

    • profile image

      rose marie 

      2 years ago

      my fire stick plant is facing East .... full sun in the morning hours .. recently the beautiful orangey color has changed to white..

      any thoughts on why???

    • paperfacets profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Venegas 

      3 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Nora, This is a question that has me wondering too. I remember as a kid in the 60's plants like the Fire Sticks that were called the Pencil plant. They were all green. I was not much impressed with them. If you started with a red plant and it is in full sun, let the soil dry for a few

      weeks, at a time, the red may come back. Over watering may be the problem. Or try to get a red branch from a neighbor or friend and start over. The color is what makes this plant eyecatching.

    • profile image

      Nora 

      3 years ago

      How do you keep the orange color in the plant. Mine has become all green. I bought it for its orange color

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An unusual plant indeed! A striking color and I appreciate the helpful tips. Voted up, interesting useful.

    • YogaKat profile image

      YogaKat 

      4 years ago from Oahu Hawaii

      Attractive plant for vibrant color and texture . . . thanks for all the gardening tips.

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