An Urge for Spurge

Need a tough plant for dry shade? How about long-lasting flowers for your summer container? Perhaps it’s a colorful plant for fall and winter interest that you’re after. Or even a houseplant that can tolerate some neglect and still look stunning.

As one of the largest and most diverse plant families, Euphorbia – also called spurge – come in just about every size, shape and color, offering at least something for every Triangle gardener to love.

Dozens of Euphorbia are winter hardy in our zone 7 gardens and heat and drought tolerant as well. They can attract butterflies and other pollinators and are undisturbed by pesky deer and rabbits because of the caustic white sap that oozes from injured leaves and stems. Wear gloves when handling Euphorbia to avoid skin irritation from the milky sap.

Most importantly, Euphorbia are quite eye-catching, thanks in large part to colorful leaves (blue, burgundy, cream and all shades of green) or showy flower bracts, those strikingly colorful leaves that surround the true flowers. The popular poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a perfect example of showy flowers.

With so many Euphorbia options, it’s a real challenge to narrow it down to just a few favorites. Be aware that some may readily self-seed or spread by underground rhizomes, making them potentially invasive, so consult your local garden center staff.


‘Blackbird’ (Euphorbia x martini) – With red stems and deep burgundy foliage, the color of this evergreen perennial spurge intensifies as the weather cools, setting a striking contrast for the chartreuse bracts and yellow flowers in spring. ‘Blackbird’ works well in containers or at the front of the border in sun to part shade with average, well-drained soil.

'Blackbird'/Skagit Gardens

‘Blackbird’/Skagit Gardens


Helena’s Blush’ Wood Spurge (E. amygdaloides hybrid) – Another evergreen perennial, ‘Helena’s Blush’ has soft green leaves edged in cream with a pink overtone that brightens in cool weather before showing off apple-green flower bracts in spring. ‘Helena’s Blush’ does well in sun to part shade, in a container or in a mixed border.

'Helena's Blush'/JC Raulston Arboretum

‘Helena’s Blush’/JC Raulston Arboretum


‘Diamond Frost’ Euphorbia – This versatile gem is a gracefully mounding annual producing a plethora of small white flower bracts atop fine-textured green foliage. ‘Diamond Frost’ is the perfect container plant. It’s colorful throughout spring and summer and will happily move indoors for the winter. Place in part sun/part shade and allow soil to dry slightly between waterings.

'Diamond Frost'/Proven Winners

‘Diamond Frost’/Proven Winners

If it’s a striking, low-maintenance indoor houseplant you’re after, try one of these beauties.

Crown of Thorns (E. milii) – A woody succulent with oval green leaves, the Crown of Thorns is an easy houseplant that will reward you with multitudes of white, pink, red, yellow or salmon colored flowers. Keep it on the dry side and provide bright light and even a few hours of direct sun. Be careful! It has serious thorns along its stems.

'Crown-of-Thorns'/JC Raulston Arboretum

‘Crown-of-Thorns’/JC Raulston Arboretum

White (Grey) Ghost Candelabra Cactus (E. lactea) – This cool cactus-like plant with thick, columnar, triangle-shaped stems is so chlorophyll-challenged it appears almost white. ‘White Ghost’ does best in bright, indirect light. Water bi-weekly during spring and summer and sparingly in winter.

Fall is a great time to look for Euphorbia in the garden center, so think about including one in your fall and winter containers or in your home décor.  You won’t be disappointed.

Sharon O’Neill works in the perennials and shrub department at Logan Trading Company. She can be reached at (919) 828-5337 or at

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