Coral Cactus Euphorbia

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Coral Cactus Euphorbia (Euphorbia Lactea var ‘Cristata’)

We totally understand why so many people do a double take when they first lay eyes upon the Coral Cactus Euphorbia. This plant is so wonderfully weird—yet mesmerizingly beautiful—you’d almost think it was from another planet.

Much of the credit for the Coral Cactus Euphorbia’s unique appearance goes to the plant itself, Euphorbia Lactea var ‘Cristata’. As its scientific name indicates, this plant is not actually a cactus. But it is undeniably captivating. Its leaves are miniscule and fall off quickly, and its fleshy, succulent-like stems are whitish-green and impossibly wide and flat, but folded in ruffled curves. This incredible shape, combined with the pink, red, purple, green, or yellow edging that often colors the stem’s upper ridge, really does make Euphorbia Lactea var ‘Cristata’ look as much like coral as it does a plant. 

Moreover, Coral Cactus Euphorbia has a secret: It’s actually two plants in one. By nature, Euphorbia Lactea var ‘Cristata’ is a ground-hugging low grower. So, to give it some stature, plant producers graft it to the lower stem and rootstock of another non-cactus, Euphorbia Neriifolia. This grafting process creates the best-of-both-worlds super-plant that we know and love.

Even though it’s two plants merged into one, Coral Cactus Euphorbia is still as easy to care for as other euphorbias. It likes full sun in most locations and bright indirect to medium light / partial shade everywhere else. It likes average water and very little fertilizer, has few pest or disease problems, and rarely needs to be trimmed or repotted.

With its out-of-this-world look and under-the-sea name, Coral Cactus Euphorbia is a sure-fire “stop ‘em in their tracks” addition to any plant collection.

Characteristics and traits of a Coral Cactus (Euphorbia Lactea)

  • Scientific Name: Euphorbia Lactea var ‘Cristata’
  • Genus: Euphorbia
  • Family: Euphorbiacea
  • Common Name: Coral Cactus, Frilled Fan, Crested Candelabra Plant, Crested Euphorbia, Crested Elkhorn.
  • Indoor: Year round at temperatures above 60°F
  • Outdoor Zones: 10-12. Bring inside when temps drop below 50°F
  • Type: Perennial evergreen succulent; Propagated via grafting
  • Mature Height: 1’-2’
  • Mature Width: 1’-2’
  • Plant Height when Shipped: XXXXXX
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Flower:Very rare. Tiny, non-ornamental pink or purple flowers.
  • Foliage: Tiny, barely noticeable leaves that fall almost immediately. Fleshy green support stem (Euphorbia Neriifolia). Top portion of plant is Euphorbia Lactea var ‘Cristata’, a thick, ruffled, white-green half-disc that resembles brain coral. Edges are dotted with tiny black thorns and top ridge is often colored red, pink, purple, yellow, or darker green.

Plant Care and Advice for Coral Cactus (Euphorbia Lactea)

  • Grown In: Inside: all zones year round, Outside: zones 10-12
  • Light Requirements:Bright indirect is ideal. Can take full sun in most areas, but may need afternoon shade in hottest locations. Tolerates partial shade/medium indirect
  • Water Requirements: In spring/summer, water generously, then drain fully and let top 2”-4” inches of soil dry between waterings. Reduce water to near-zero in cooler months.
  • Drought Tolerance: Excellent
  • Temperature: Prefers 60°F-85°F. Can take higher temps if outdoors, but bring in when temp falls below 50°F. Not frost tolerant at all. 
  • Air Purification: Good
  • Toxicity: Toxic - Sap in particular can cause swelling and blistering of skin and nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested.
  • Fertilizer: Cactus or succulent fertilizer at ½ strength once per month in spring/summer, none fall/winter.
  • Container Friendly: Yes - But soil must drain well
  • Planting: Coral Cactus Euphorbia grows slowly, so it probably won’t need to be repotted more than every 2-3 years. Feel free to let it get a bit pot bound. When you do repot it, choose a fast-draining soil. Cactus or succulent mix is excellent (especially if you add a tiny bit of peat or loam for extra richness). A 1:1 mix of potting soil and coarse sand also works well.A heavy, terra cotta pot is the best choice for Coral Cactus Euphorbia, as it will both keep the plant from toppling if it becomes lopsided and also “breathe” better than other materials. Move the plant gently into its new home, careful to avoid its spines and toxic sap (gloves and long sleeves are advised). Finally, while many commercial growers mulch with a layer of gravel, this can make it difficult to check the soil for moisture. Be sure you have a good way to know when your plant needs—or doesn’t need—water.
  • Plant Care: Coral Cactus Euphorbia is flexible with regard to light, but has a few specific needs. In most indoor settings, full sun produces the best results. Just be sure to rotate the plant regularly so it doesn’t grow lopsided. Bright to medium indirect light works well also. If placing the plant outdoors in full sun, help it acclimate by moving it back and forth from shade to sun every day for a week or two, giving it a little more sun each day. Even after this process, the very hottest, brightest afternoons may prove too much for the plant. Bright indirect light or partial shade will be safer. Whichever light intensity you choose, be sure to bring Coral Cactus Euphorbia inside when the temperatures drop below 50°F— this plant is not frost tolerant at all. Note: Store-bought Coral Cactus Euphorbias often come with a glued-down “lid” of pebbles covering the soil as a sort of mulch. We recommend carefully removing this lid at once. It does look tidy, but it also makes it very difficult to check the soil for moisture. Speaking of moisture, Coral Cactus Euphorbia lands somewhere between true cacti and other tropicals in regards to watering. In spring and summer, water the plant well, then let it drain fully and wait until the top 2”-4” of soil is dry before watering again. Cut back significantly on watering in fall and winter, when the plant is dormant and cool temperatures make water more likely to linger in the soil. Similarly, fertilizer is best applied only in spring and summer, and then only sparingly. Once-per-month dose of liquid cactus or succulent fertilizer at half strength or regular 10-10-10 fertilizer at one-quarter strength will do. Avoid granular fertilizers, which can burn the roots if they get too close.  Coral Cactus Euphorbia likes a bit of humidity, but only if it also has significant airflow. If the air is too still, misting and other humidity-raising actions can invite fungal infections.
  • Expert Advice: While Coral Cactus Euphorbia is not an actual cactus, there is also a legitimate cactus, Cylindropuntia Fulgida var. Mamillata, that goes by the common name Coral Cactus.If the top portion, or “crest” of Coral Cactus Euphorbia starts to brown or soften, especially after being exposed to cold, there’s a strong possibility the plant has fungal rot. This is best addressed via emergency surgery. Trim off the infected portion of the crest with a sterilized razor blade or knife, and dispose of it. Don’t worry about sealing the wound. The plant’s natural sap will do that for you. On the other hand, if the top crest just looks wilted or droopy, the plant likely just needs a bit more water. Increase the amount or frequency of water bit by bit until the plant recovers, but be careful you don’t overdo it and end up waterlogging the plant instead. Sometimes, the Euphorbia Neriifolia at the plant’s base will send out a new branch or sucker, which is called “reverting”. You can leave the new growth alone if you like, but there’s a fair chance the new growth will use up nutrients you’d prefer went to the top crest instead. For this reason, we recommend cutting the new growth off at the base. Although mostly pest-immune, Coral Cactus Euphorbia can contract spider mites, mealybugs, or scale insects. Instead of insecticidal soap, which can harm this plant’s tissue, treat mealybugs and scale insects by dabbing them directly with a cotton swab soaked in 70% rubbing alcohol. Treat spider mites with frequent cleanings (no soap, just water) or diluted neem oil. Powdery mildew can be a concern in humid, low-airflow locations. Fungicide can be too harsh, but 1 teaspoon baking soda mixed into a gallon of water, then sprayed on, can help. Coral Cactus Euphorbia is propagated by grafting two existing plants together. Surprisingly, this process is not as complex or daunting as it sounds. To start, identify a healthy Euphorbia Neriifolia and Euphorbia Lactea var. ‘Cristata’ that you’d like to graft together. Then cut a v-shaped notch in the E Neriifolia and a matching, but opposite arrowhead-shaped cut in the E. Cristata’s bottom. Try to make the shapes fit together with no gaps (gaps invite infection). Also, try not to get sap on your skin. It can feel unpleasant.  Once that’s done, place the two plants together and seal the seams with grafting wax. Then tie the two halves of your new plant together with string or plant twine. Wait 3-4 weeks and carefully remove the wax to check progress. If the graft hasn’t sealed, wax it up for another 3 weeks.

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 when you buy any 3 or more plants!

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  • We ship orders out of our nursery on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
  • If your order arrives by Tuesday night, we'll get it out within 24 hours, otherwise it will go out the following Monday.
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  • Depending on your location, you should receive your plants within 2-7 days from the date we ship them. Most orders average 2-3 days.
  • Our system automatically emails a notification to you with shipping and tracking information as soon as we ship your plants. Be sure your email is entered in correctly when you are checking out, this is the main cause for not getting notified.  If you do not received your order, please email us at Happiness@TropicalPlants.com.

Changing your delivery address

  1. If you want to change the delivery address of your order and it has not already left our greenhouses, we will do our best to modify the delivery. Please send us an email to: Happiness@TropicalPlants.com. No guarantee, but we will try our best.

  2. If the order has already shipped, please go to UPS.com or Fedex.com. Sign up there to make changes to delivery addresses.

Packages arriving in bad condition

On occasion, UPS and FedEx may handle some packages a bit too rough for your plant's liking. Please open your package immediately and document any damage with your camera. Call us at 800-668-3358 or email us at Happiness@TropicalPlants.com (preferably with your photos) and let us know what happened. Also refer to our Guarantee.

Holding Orders

If you need us to hold an order for you, we can for a short time. In the warm months we can only hold orders for a week or two. The plants grow so fast they can become too large to ship very quickly. In the Winter things grow a lot slower and we hold orders due to bad weather a lot better. So if you are not going to be home the week you order, just drop us an email and we will be glad to hold your order.

Winter Shipping

  1. Do you ship all year long? Yes! In the cold Winter and hot Summer months we check each order destination to be sure the temperature is safe to ship your live plant. When the temperature borders on the "too cold" to ship side, we may choose to ship your plants with a heat pack at no extra charge. If the temperature is still "too cold" to ship, we will hold your order in the warmth of our greenhouses until we can find a safe window of shipping weather and you will be notified via email.

  2. Do you ship with heat packs? No need to request one. We will check the weather in your area and add one if the temperature is below safe shipping levels.

  3. Do you charge extra for heat packs? No.

  4. What do I do if my plants are damaged by the cold? Please take good photos of the box, packing materials and the plants and send them to: Happiness@TropicalPlants.com.