Euphorbia Trigona: The Tall Succulent That Stands Out

Euphorbia trigona, also known as the African milk tree or cathedral cactus, is a beautiful and unique succulent that captures the attention of plant enthusiasts. With its striking appearance and distinctive features, this succulent stands out in any collection due to its growth in height.

Plant Attributes

Here’s a detailed look at the key attributes of Euphorbia Trigona in tabular format:

Common NameAfrican Milk Tree, cathedral cactus, Abyssinian euphorbia, high chaparall, Trekantsøjle, Cowboy-kaktus
Botanical NameEuphorbia trigona
Plant TypeSucculent
Mature SizeUp to 6 feet (2 meters) in height
Sun ExposureFull sun to partial shade
Soil TypeWell-draining, sandy or loamy soil
Soil pHSlightly acidic to slightly alkaline
Bloom TimeRarely blooms
Flower ColorInsignificant
Hardiness ZonesUSDA hardiness zones 10-11
Native AreaCentral Africa (Angola)

Taxonomy and Characteristics

Euphorbia trigona belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family, which is known for its diverse range of plants. This family includes a wide variety of succulents, shrubs, and even trees. The scientific classification of Euphorbia trigona further categorizes it as a tender, evergreen succulent.

Morphological Features of Euphorbia trigona

Distinctive Appearance: One of the most striking features of Euphorbia trigona is its stem. The stems are upright and have three wing-like angles, giving them a triangular shape. These stems can grow to be quite thick, measuring 4-6 cm in diameter, and they are marked with V-shaped light green patterns, creating an eye-catching contrast.

Spines and Leaves: Euphorbia trigona’s stems aren’t just smooth; they are armed with short, sharp spines. In addition to the spines, this succulent also produces leaves. These leaves are lanceolate to drop-shaped and can vary in size, typically ranging from 7 to 9 mm to 3-5 cm. They usually fall off during winter but can last longer under certain conditions.

No Known Flowers: Interestingly, Euphorbia trigona is not known to flower. Despite its striking appearance and succulent nature, it doesn’t produce blooms. Instead, its appeal lies in its unusual stem structure and leaf patterns.

Euphorbia trigona is known for its unique appearance and growth habit. Its stems have three wing-like angles, giving it a distinct geometric charm. These stems are adorned with short, sharp spines that add an element of protection to the plant. Over time, Euphorbia trigona develops into a compactly branched shrub or small tree, reaching a height of two meters or more.

Leaf Deficient

Euphorbia trigona sometimes lacks leaves or had very few leaves at the upper portion of stem, which may seem unusual for a plant. However, this adaptation is not a deficiency but rather a strategy to thrive in its natural habitat. By reducing the surface area exposed to the sun, Euphorbia trigona minimizes water loss through transpiration. Its stems, covered in photosynthetic tissue, take on the role of converting sunlight into energy, ensuring the plant’s survival in arid conditions.

Native Habitat

Euphorbia trigona is native to regions with warm climates, including parts of Africa. It thrives in habitats with well-drained soil and receives an ample amount of sunlight. Typically, it can be found in dry savannas or rocky slopes, where it has adapted to thrive in harsh conditions.

Global Distribution

Due to its popularity as a houseplant, Euphorbia trigona has been introduced to various parts of the world. It can now be found in regions with similar climatic conditions, such as parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. However, it is essential to be cautious about its introduction in non-native environments, as it may have unintended ecological consequences.

Cultivation and Care

Ideal Growing Conditions

To ensure optimal growth, Euphorbia trigona requires specific conditions. It thrives in temperatures around 65-85°F (18-29°C) and prefers bright, indirect sunlight. A well-draining soil mixture, specifically formulated for succulents, is essential to prevent waterlogged roots. When choosing a pot, select a size that allows for future growth, ensuring that the plant has enough space to develop.

Watering and Fertilization

Watering Euphorbia trigona requires careful attention. Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings to prevent root rot. During the growing season, which spans from spring to fall, water the plant every two to three weeks. In contrast, reduce watering during the winter months when the plant is dormant. Fertilize Euphorbia trigona with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength once a month during the growing season.

Pruning and Propagation

Pruning Euphorbia trigona is crucial to maintaining its desired shape and size. Use clean, sharp pruning shears to remove any dead or damaged stems. Avoid excessive pruning, as this may stress the plant. Euphorbia trigona can be propagated through both cuttings and seeds. Cuttings should be taken during the growing season and allowed to callus before being planted in a well-draining soil mixture. Seeds can be sown in a similar soil mixture and require warmth and adequate moisture to germinate.

Stem Propagation

Euphorbia Trigona is relatively easy to propagate. The most common way is from stem cuttings. Cuttings can be taken from the ends of branches that have grown out for a couple of years. Here are the steps to propagate Euphorbia Trigona:

  1. Choose a healthy stem that is at least 5-7 inches long.
  2. Use a clean, sharp knife or scissors to cut the stem at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Allow the cutting to dry for 3-7 days so that it can form a callus and not rot.
  4. Fill a pot with well-draining soil, such as cactus/succulent potting mix or a combination of pumice rock with sand.
  5. Make a hole in the soil and insert the cutting about 1-2 inches deep.
  6. Water the soil thoroughly and allow it to drain.
  7. Place the pot in a bright, warm location with indirect sunlight.
  8. Water the cutting sparingly until it has established roots.

Euphorbia Trigona and its Environment

Euphorbia trigona can have potential impacts when introduced to non-native environments. It may outcompete native species, as it has adapted to arid conditions and may have a competitive advantage. Additionally, Euphorbia trigona can attract pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, enhancing biodiversity in its surroundings.

Medicinal and Cultural Significance

Traditional Uses

Euphorbia trigona holds a significant place in different cultures due to its traditional medicinal uses. In some communities, it is believed to have healing properties and is used to treat various ailments. Additionally, this succulent may have cultural practices or rituals associated with its presence, symbolizing fertility, protection, or spirituality.

Potential Pharmacological Properties

Euphorbia Trigona has been used for medicinal purposes in various cultures. According to Mother Earth Living it has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-viral, pest repellent, anti-oxidation, anti-diabetic, sedative and wound healing properties. However, there is insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for most of these uses. Euphorbia is used for breathing disorders including asthma, bronchitis, and chest congestion. It is also used for mucus in the nose and throat, throat spasms, hay fever, and tumors . Some people use it to cause vomiting. In India, it is also used for treating worms, severe diarrhea (dysentery), gonorrhea, and digestive problems .

Scientific research has explored the potential pharmacological properties of Euphorbia trigona. Studies have investigated its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, hinting at its potential use in pharmaceutical applications. While further research is needed to fully understand its medicinal potential, Euphorbia trigona shows promise as a source of bioactive compounds.

Common Pests and Diseases

Like any plant, Euphorbia trigona is susceptible to certain pests and diseases. Common pests include mealybugs and spider mites, which can be controlled through regular inspections and appropriate treatments. Additionally, root rot and fungal infections may occur if the plant is overwatered or exposed to excessive humidity. Proper care, including well-draining soil and controlled watering, can help prevent these issues.

Euphorbia Trigona Varieties and Hybrids

Various cultivars and hybrids of Euphorbia trigona offer unique features and characteristics. From variegated patterns to different hues, these variations add diversity to succulent collections. Some popular cultivars include the Royal Red, known for its striking red coloration, and the Variegata, with its attractive white and green variegated foliage.

Toxicity and Handling

Euphorbia Trigona can be grown indoors. It is an easy-to-grow, low-maintenance houseplant that can thrive indoors. To grow it indoors, you need a heavy, unglazed clay pot to support this indoor tree-like plant and well-draining, sandy soil. The African milk tree prefers partial sun exposure and can grow up to 4.5 feet tall indoors . It is important to note that the plant exudes a white sap when cut or broken, which can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions . Therefore, it is recommended to wear gloves while handling the plant.

It’s essential to handle Euphorbia trigona with caution due to the toxic latex it contains. This latex can cause skin and eye irritation, so wearing gloves and protective eyewear is recommended when handling the plant. Keep it out of reach of children and pets to avoid any potential harm.

Euphorbia trigona in Art

Euphorbia trigona has made its mark in various art forms, including paintings, sculptures, and botanical illustrations. Its unique form and geometric patterns have inspired artists to capture its beauty and incorporate it into their artwork.

Use in Interior Design and Landscaping

Due to its striking appearance, Euphorbia trigona is highly sought after for interior design and landscaping. From contemporary spaces to arid gardens, this succulent adds an architectural element to any setting. Its tall, sculptural form and minimal care requirements make it an ideal choice for both indoor and outdoor design.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • How tall can Euphorbia trigona grow?Euphorbia trigona can reach a height of two meters or more under suitable growing conditions.
  • Can Euphorbia trigona be grown outdoors?While Euphorbia trigona thrives as an indoor plant, it can also be grown outdoors in regions with suitable climates, replicating its natural habitat conditions.
  • How often should I water Euphorbia trigona?Water Euphorbia trigona every two to three weeks during the growing season, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings. Reduce watering during the winter dormancy period.
  • Is Euphorbia trigona safe to have around children or pets?Euphorbia trigona should be kept out of reach of children and pets due to its toxic latex, which can cause skin and eye irritation if exposed.


Euphorbia trigona, commonly known as the African milk tree or cathedral cactus, is a captivating succulent with unique features. Its three-sided stems, lack of leaves, and tall stature make it an eye-catching addition to any collection. With its adaptability to various growing conditions and cultural significance, Euphorbia trigona has become a beloved plant in horticulture, art, and design. By understanding its taxonomy, cultivation, and potential medicinal properties, plant enthusiasts can appreciate the beauty and wonders of Euphorbia trigona.

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