Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Love for the Crown of Thorns

Pink bracts surrounding the yellow flowers.

I have a lot of plants. There are  a few varieties that I have  collections of and Euphorbia is one of them. Today I'm going to talk about the crown of thorns, Euphorbia milii  and the others in the collection another day.
The first 3 pictures are of a very large Thai hybrid I've had for quite some time. When I bought it, it was in a 6" pot and only about 10 inches tall. Now its over 4' tall . It also had huge hydrangea-like flower  clusters when I bought it. They still are large flowers, but I've never had a cluster that large since. For clarification, the flowers are the small yellow round things in the center and are called cyathia and the colored parts are called cyathial bracts, which are modified leaves. 

I found these pictures below of the same plant from 2002. I entered it in a local flower show and won a blue ribbon, as well as an award of merit. You can see how small it started out and now it is over 4' tall.
The crown of thorns above in 2002
I won a blue ribbon and an award of merit

My first experience with crown of thorns was in 1983. I was in the 11th grade (yes, I'm dating myself) and was lucky enough to go to Washington, D.C. on a school trip. I was with another girl from my class and talked her into going to the U.S. Botanical Garden. I loved plants even back then, and she was a great sport to go in. I saw a plant that was just gorgeous, covered with little red "flowers" and I thought it was amazing. I'm not sure when I figured out what it was. When I saw one  for sale, I snapped it up. I actually found the picture I took of it in an old photo album. I was a plant geek way back then and still am.

Crown of thorns at U.S. Botanical Garden 1983

Euphorbia 'Pink Cadillac'

This is a newer variety called 'Pink Cadilllac' It is a very full, compact, floriferous variety.

Euphorbia 'Fireworks'

This variegated form is called 'Fireworks'. I love variegated plants, so when I saw this, it was a must have. It hasn't flowered, but variegated plants never bloom as well, and that's all right with me.


Euphorbia 'Northern De Lites'

  A dear friend  gifted me with this plant just a few months ago (thank-you, Julia!). I love it! It is the cultivar 'Northern De Lites' and although variegated, it is much different  than the 'Fireworks' variety.

Unknown cultivar at a cactus meeting

This was a plant someone brought for "show and tell" at cactus club. I don't know the cultivar, but it is gorgeous.

Crown of thorns at Belle Isle

Very old spiny plant at Belle Isle Conservatory
We were at the Belle Isle Conservatory in Detroit yesterday and these plants were both in bloom. They are very old and spiny.

These flowers are only 1/4" across.

This picture above is of my miniature crown of thorns. I don't know the culitvar, but the flowers are only 1/4" across. I've had it for years and the plant is still only about 10" tall.

I have these two crown of thorns from Proven Selections. My 'Cherry Cobbler' has bloomed but the 'Lemon Meringue' hasn't bloomed yet. The 'Cherry Cobbler' bloom is below. People always love plants that are named after food (it is a proven fact). These make me want to bake a pie! I can't wait for the yellow one to bloom. These cultivars are only a couple of years old.

'Cherry Cobbler' Crown of Thorns from Proven Selections

Plant people have been working to make the crown of thorns have much larger bracts surrounding the small yellow flowers. They come in yellow, pink, red, and bi-colors. They are very easy to take care of which is a huge plus. They usually drop their leaves on the bottom, only growing new ones on the top. A lot of mine have leaves and flowers on the top and very spiny stems on the bottom. They are not spines like those on cactus because crown of thorns aren't cactus, but succulents. There are no areoles around the base of the thorns which would identify them as cactus. Cactus spines are modified leaves. The spines on crown of thorns are called stipular spines and grow at the base of leaves.  
Water them and then let them dry out quite a bit before watering again. Give them a bright window if you would like them to flower.  Euphorbia milii are from Madagascar and are said to be the thorny bush used for Jesus' crown of thorns, thus the common name. They are easy to propagate by cuttings. Use approx. 3" cuttings, letting them heal over before potting them up in soil. Euphorbias have a sticky, white sap that is evident when you cut the plant. It is  latex and it is advisable not to get it in your mouth or eyes.
When you need to re-pot them, be very careful, as they are very spiny and it can be very tricky. When potting thorny plants, I use leather gloves or strips of newspaper, a strip of carpeting, or tongs to hold the plant.

'White Lightening' Crown of thorns

This very white variegated crown of thorns was at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. It looks a lot like 'Fireworks'. 

The next time you see a crown of thorns for sale, buy one. It is an easy, unusual, beautiful plant to grow.

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