Euphorbia myrsinites is a charming plant that deserves to be better known. The Myrtle Spurge is an easy, tough, tidy groundcover and one of the most useful and highly ornamentally plants to grow in the garden.
This prostrate-growing evergreen, hardy perennial, succulent has trailing stems that are clad in broad, spiraling, geometrically arranged grey-blue leaves. Clusters of chartreuse-yellow flowers appear from May to August.
Euphorbia myrsinites will grow in most sunny areas, but does particularly well in hot, dry sites with well-drained soils. It is quite tolerant of poor soils, including rocky, sandy ones.
Ideal for the front of the border, it lends a marvellous texture to rock gardens and Mediterranean gardens and looks great trailing over rock walls, tubs or mixed containers.
Growing to a height of 10cm (4in) and with a spread of around 50cm (20in), the colour and form associate well with a vast array of companion plants. It requires little maintenance and is attractive to pollinating insects.
The Royal Horticultural Society awarded Euphorbia myrsinites their prestigious Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
Sowing: Sow in late spring to early summer.
Soak the seeds for two hours in warm water before sowing. Euphorbia plants do not like root disturbance, so it is best to sow the seeds in place of growth or to use deep plugs or pots. Grow at 20 to 26°C (68 to 78°F) . Be patient, germination is generally very slow, it may occur in two to three weeks at but sometimes can take a few months.
Sow directly where they are to grow, once temperatures have risen and the soil has warmed. Sow on the surface of the soil and keep damp but not wet.
Surface sow the seeds into plugs or small pots using a good seed sowing mix or well drained soil and cover seed with vermiculite, do not exclude light.
Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into larger pots to grow on. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out. Plant 30cm (12in) apart in sun and ordinary well drained soil.
Euphorbia need full sun to partial shade, with a well-drained soil mix. The plants should be well watered and be allowed to dry before watering again. The plants are native to poor soils and do not need fertiliser or excessive water. Too much of either will provide lush growth but at the expense of flowers.
Although it can be strongly evergreen through winter, each stem is biennial, so will produce leaves in its first year and flower in its second. Once the stem has produced a flower it should be cut right back to its base or to a point where there is new growth emerging, in midsummer. This will make way for lots of new, fresh shoots
Prune the old stalks in June, be careful to cut back only second year branches, almost as soon as they're removed, lots of fresh new shoots will appear.
Borders and Beds. Cut Flowers.
To produce longer lasting cut flowers, sear the cut ends over a flame or dip them in boiling water.
As with all members of the Euphorbiaceae, plants and seed are toxic if eaten.
When working with spurges, plants should be handled with care, especially when sap is showing. Always wear gloves since the milky sap is poisonous and a potential skin irritant. The latex is corrosive to the skin and can cause burns or dermatitis.
Euphorbia myrsinites is native to south-eastern Europe and Asia Minor. It can be found growing on the Apennines as high as 7,500 ft.
Euphorbia has a long history as a medicinal plant, it was known to Theophrastus (371 - 287BC).
The genus was named after Euphorbes (50BC - AD23), the personal physician to the Numidian King Juba II, who is said to have discovered the toxic and curative potential of the white and milky sap in the plant.
The word Euphorbus derives from the Greek eu meaning ‘good’ and phorbe meaning ‘pasture or fodder’ thus giving the meaning ‘well fed.’ Some sources suggest that Juba was amused by the play upon words and chose his physician's name for the plant because of its succulent nature and because of Euphorbus' corpulent physique.
The species name Myrsinities is derived from the Greek mursinh meaning ’Myrtle’ in reference to the plants leaves which are similar in shape to the Myrtle plant (Myrtus communis).
Euphorbias have also been given the common name ‘spurge’ from the Latin expurgare ( French espurgier ) meaning 'to purge', as the sap of herbaceous euphorbias used to be used as a purgative, a laxative.
The Natural History (Latin: Naturalis Historia), an encyclopedia published circa AD77-79 by Pliny the Elder says: "The tithymalos (spurge) is called by our people the ‘milk plant,’ ('Herba lactaria') and by some persons the ‘goat lettuce’.
It belongs to the enormous genus of Euphorbia which includes such plants as the traditional holiday poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), common garden spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias), and quite a few species of cactus look-alike plants, such as Euphorbia neriifolia.
Euphorbus was the Greek physician of Juba II, the King of Mauretania. Juba was educated in Rome and married the daughter of Antony and Cleopatra. Euphorbus was interested in botany and had written about an African cactus-like plant he had found or which he knew about from the slopes of Mt. Atlas which was used as a powerful laxative. That plant may have been Euphorbia resinifera which, like all Euphorbias had a latexy exudate.
Euphorbus had a brother named Antonius Musa who was the physician to Augustus Caesar in Rome. When Juba heard that Caesar had honoured his physician with a statue, he decided to honour his own physician by naming the plant he had written about after him.
One species of Euphorbia, E. regis-jubae, was named in honour of King Juba II.
Botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus assigned the name Euphorbia to the entire genus in the physician's honour.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Seed Form Natural Family Euphorbiaceae Genus Euphorbia Species myrsinites Common Name Myrtle Spurge Other Common Names Donky Spurge Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Intense chartreuse-green flowers Natural Flower Time March to June Height 10cm (4in) Spread 50cm (20in) Position Full sun to partial shade. Soil Well-drained/light, Dry, Sandy Time to Sow Sow in early spring to early autumn. Germination Be patient, germination is generally very slow