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Fire Sticks Succulent Care and Cautions

Updated on October 11, 2017
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Sherry has maintained homes and landscaped yards for 45 years in Southern California. She has collected water-wise succulents for 10 years.

Firesticks Succulent
Firesticks Succulent

Care of the Fire Sticks Succulent

This instructional page about caring for the fire sticks or Euphorbia tiruccalli 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 l have amassed on the slope of our property. It is nothing fancy because the plants are placed haphazardly as acquired.

The 'Sticks of Fire' was a one gallon specimen when planted about 6 years ago and now it needs serious tending almost twice a year.

Needs and Growing Habits of Euphorbia tiruccailli

  1. The location of firesticks should allow for full sun year round.
  2. Water once a week. It is very drought tolerant. Less water helps control growth.
  3. 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.
  4. Heard rumors about a plant being used for fencing in Mexico? Some specimens grow forever and can eventually be tree-sized.
  5. If the plant is simply topped, growth is encouraged to make it incredibly thick up and down the whole trunk. Too much green can develop underneath the vigorous red new growth on top. I prefer a more airy, light-looking plant.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.

Add Color to the Succulent Garden With Fire Sticks
Add Color to the Succulent Garden With Fire Sticks

Growing Tips and Tricks

  1. Thick older branches develop tough cords inside. A sharp clipper can be used.
  2. 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.
  3. The plant grows new red branches in the winter and adds color and interest to all succulent gardens.
  4. 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.
  5. Since it is a vigorously growing plant, it will need more replanting than other succulents.

My full grown plant. The trunk is about 2-3 inches thick and well established in six years.
My full grown plant. The trunk is about 2-3 inches thick and well established in six years.
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.

What to Beware 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.

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.

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! Lisa from Los Angeles says in the Comment Section below that Benadryl seemed to stopped the severe eye irritation from the sap quickly. I had an episode and it seemed to last for over 20 minutes without the Benadryl.

Avoid getting your hands near your eyes.

Evidence of the sap. It drips freely. BEWARE.
Evidence of the sap. It drips freely. BEWARE.

Your Euphorbia Experience

Have you tended euphorbias?

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My favorite garden gloves. They also come in wrist length.
My favorite garden gloves. They also come in wrist length.

Gloves are Essential When Trimming This Succulent

These are the gloves 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 in the laundry if too dirty or sappy. They fit snug around the fingers and the arm shield guards against pricks and sap.

Made by the baseball outfitter.

Things to Consider Before Your 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 seeing it more and more, so watch the toddlers when walking the neighborhood.

This plant might cause problems because the stems are tender and break very easily. All would be okay if our planting is kept small.

Dig up the plant every couple of years and replant with the old plant's biggest branch. Maintenance done.

Fire sticks succulent close-up.
Fire sticks succulent close-up.

Maintain And Enjoy In Planters

The easiest way to enjoy this colorful plant is in a planter or pot with other succulents. Planters and decorative pots requiring plantings for seasonal renewal is a good method for keeping this succulent a manageable size.

Last warning do not get the sap near your face and eyes and 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 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.

© 2014 Sherry Venegas

Any stories or questions to add in the comment section?

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      Sherry Venegas 5 days 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.

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      Lisa from Los Angeles 5 days 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.

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      Karen from SydneyAust. 8 weeks 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

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      Tammy 2 months ago

      They are lethal to pets! Especially if ingested!

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      Mariette 2 months 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

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      Eileen Faucett 2 months ago

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

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      Sherry Venegas 2 months ago from La Verne, CA

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

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      Sherry Venegas 2 months ago from La Verne, CA

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

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      Annekie 2 months ago

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


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      Catzzz61 2 months 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.

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      LILLY 2 months 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.

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      Sherry Venegas 2 months 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?

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      Martha 3 months ago

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

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      Sherry Venegas 3 months 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.

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      rose marie 3 months 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???

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      Sherry Venegas 15 months 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.

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      Nora 15 months ago

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

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      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

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      YogaKat 2 years ago from Oahu Hawaii

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