Pencil Tree

An Introduction to the Pencil Tree

The pencil tree is a succulent tree that is often grown as a house plant. The plant which is known by the botanical name of Euphorbia tirucalli is endemic to eastern and southern parts of the African continent. The plant gets its name from the pencil-sized light green branches which grow from the central wooden-looking trunk. There are no traditional leaves or flowers for this plant. It is also known as the milk bush, finger tree, Indian tree spurge and the petroleum plant.

These trees are great container plants that have a lot of character and can be a great addition indoors or as a porch plant. The pencil tree can grow as tall as 20 to 30 feet and this accentuates the drama of the looks of this plant. On the ground, they also tend to spread to 6 to 10 feet and can sometimes be hard to keep controlled. It will be prudent to trim and maintain it carefully to make the most of its eye-catching appearance. Trimming can also help in training and growing the plant in desired patterns. The spindliness of the pencil tree also lends itself to decorations and this can make it an interesting architectural additional to any room. Those who do not have the room for a Christmas tree may enjoy stringing lights on a pencil tree.

The pencil tree needs plenty of sun light and handles drought conditions very well. When maintaining it as a potted plant give a lot of time between watering sessions and allow the soil to get completely dry in between. Its ability to handle neglect is one of the reasons it is a popular house plant and it does not need any special soil or humidity levels. It is, however, not good at handling freezing temperatures and so it is found only in landscapes in certain parts of the country. Places with a clear winter season are not conducive for an outdoor pencil tree. However, where the temperatures are higher and the climate can be classified as tropical or subtropical gardeners use them as background plants and also mix them with other shrubs to create interesting hedges. The best way to propagate a pencil tree is from cuttings. It is important to let the cutting dry enough to not have any oozy sap when it is planted in a fresh potting mix. 

There is one feature of the pencil tree that can be harmful to some people and it is important to stay aware of this when you choose to own this plant. The milky sap of this tree causes severe adverse reactions in some people. The pencil tree has an above average amount of latex even by the standards of the Euphorbia and it is likely that you will come in contact with it while doing any maintenance work around your plant such as trimming or weeding. If you are one of those with sensitivities to the sap, you can break out in a rash. Conjunctivitis, irritation, burning, gastritis and diarrhea are among the other clinical symptoms you may experience. Plant experts actually list the sap, the whole plant, euphorbol terpenes, esters and diterpenes as potentially toxic. The toxicity of the plant has been long recognized and used by some fishing communities in Africa. The macerated branches of these plants would be left in a pond or stream to temporarily numb the fish and this made them easier to catch. If a person handling the plant has a strong adverse reaction, medical attention will be required and it will most probably treated like other allergy reactions and treated with an antihistamine. 



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