In my efforts to replace “touchy,” hard-to-grow plants with those that are easy-to-grow (better yet, effortless), I have been paying more attention to “botanical survivors” in gardens around Cambria. Mostly, I look for plants that get little supplemental water, are deer resistant, and not particularly beloved by underground pests like gophers and moles.
One that comes to mind grows next to the street around the mailboxes and in my neighbor’s yard. This architecturally striking plant has chartreuse or lime green flowers in dense, round to cylindrical clusters. It grows to about 4 feet. Its color and structure never ceases to catch my eye.
These beauties, commonly called spurge, are sometimes called “gopher plants.” They belong to the Euphorbiaceae genus (the same as the poinsettia). The genus was named for Euphorbus, physician to the king of Mauritania in northwest Africa in late B.C. and early A.D. It is believed that Euphorbus used plants in this genus for medicinal purposes. (Don’t follow his example as the plants are highly toxic, thus are excluded from the diet of local deer and underground pests.)
The genus Euphorbia is considered a Mediterranian plant and includes over 2,000 species. The plants in the genus may be herbs, shrubs, and trees; herbaceous, woody or succulent. All plants in the species have a poisonous milky sap containing latex. Those small flat weeds in our garden that exude a milky substance when we try to pull them up are a part of this diversified family of plants. The sticky sap that is oozes when cut can cause skin irritation in sensitive people, so care should be taken when working around these plants. The caustic substance is not a repellant but a contact irritant.
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Euphorbias are often considered gopher and mole repellants. The critter must chew the roots to become ill or die and they are often
wise enough to know better. In order to protect garden plants from gophers, a thick stand of Euphorbia planted in its main tunnel is necessary in the hopes that an impatient gopher will unknowingly eat some roots as an appetizer on his way to dining on one of your botanical delicacies. Single random plantings here and there will not reduce your gopher population.
Planting in a sunny location with good drainage is essential for this striking plant. Once established, it will be fairly maintenance-free.