Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii (Mediterranean Spurge)

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, was previously known as Euphorbia wulfenii, is commonly called Mediterranean spurge. 

It’s an evergreen, multistemmed perennial forming an erect clump. Slender, greyish-blue leaves gracefully spiral along the stems. The stems culminate in a magnificent cylindrical inflorescence adorned with bright yellow-green flowers that start blooming during the late winter months.

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii is a drought-tolerant hardy plant native to the Eastern Mediterranean region.

It is quite similar to Euphorbia characias subsp characias, but wulfenii has slightly different colours and is larger.

Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii plant (Mediterranean Spurge)

Quick Overview

TYPE

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii height and width

BLOOM TIME

Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii bloom time (Mediterranean Spurge)

SUNLIGHT

full sun / semi shade

HARDINESS

hardiness (-12ºC / 10º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Mediterranean Spurge Scientific name

  • Botanical name: Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii (yoo-FOR-bee-uh kuh-RAY-see-us subsp. wul-FEE-nee )
  • Family:  Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name:  Mediterranean Spurge
  • Synonyms: Euphorbia wulfenii
NameMeaning
EuphorbiaDerives from “Euphorbus”, the name of the greek physician of King Juba II (52-50 BC to 23 AD), who is believed to have used euphorbia plants for medicinal purposes.
characiasDerives from the Greek word “xaraxias” and was first used to identify the plant by Dioscorides (Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist) in the 1st century AD.
wulfeniiThe subspecies, wulfenii, is named after the Austrian naturalist Franz Xavier von Wulfen (1728–1805).

The common name, spurge, comes from the old French word, “esurge“, which means “to purge”.

How to identify Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii plant (Mediterranean Spurge)

Plant

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii is an evergreen multi-stemmed perennial that forms an erect mound.  Its stems are upright or slightly reclining and emerge from the base of the plant, covered with grey-blue leaves and topped with striking yellow-green cylindrical inflorescences.

Like other Euphorbias, it produces a milky sap when its stems or leaves are broken. This sap can irritate the skin and cause discomfort, so it’s essential to handle the plant with care and use protective gear.

The plant has an average height of 1 to 1.5 m (3.2 to 5 ft) and a width of 1.25 (4 ft)

Euphorbia characias subsp. characias , also called Mediterranean spurge, is similar but smaller, around 80 cm (2.6 ft).

Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii stem

Stem

The stems of Euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfenii are bownish-green, erect, and hairy. The upper stem is usually green and covered with a spiral of grey-blue leaves that are turned downwards, while the lower part is woody, naked and with scars left from previously shed leaves.

Atop the stems grow yellow cylindrical inflorescences, but what appear to be flower petals are actually bracts.

Each stem lives for only two years. During the first year, it will grow and only produce leaves, while in the second year, it flowers, and then dries out entirely after flowering.

Make sure to handle the stems with care because the leaves release a milky sap when broken. This sap can irritate your skin and cause discomfort. To avoid any problems, be careful when touching the stems and wear protective gear if needed.

Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii leaf (Mediterranean Spurge)

Leaf

The leaf is fleshy and hairy. The colour is bluish or greyish-blue.

It is simple with a lanceolate pointed shape and a slightly revolute margin.

The leaf length is, on average, 2 to 9 cm  (0.8 to 3.5 in) long. 

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii flower (Mediterranean Spurge)

Flower

The inflorescence is large and cylindrical and consists of several cyathia.

A cyathium is a specialized flower structure in the Euphorbiaceae family, consisting of an involucre, staminate flowers, and a pistillate flower. 

At the centre, there is a single female flower, known as the pistillate flower, which consists of a single ovary on a stalk (pedicel). Surrounding the pistillate flower are several male flowers called staminate flowers. 

The pistillate and staminate are enclosed in a cup-shaped involucre, formed by a whorl of connected acid-green bracts, with brilliant yellow glands on the border.

The involucre has two yellow-green bracts at its base, which most people think are the flower’s petals.

The flowers start blooming in late winter and continue until early summer. 

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    Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii Habitat

    Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region.  Its natural habitat typically includes rocky, dry, and well-drained soils and is often found in open woodland, scrubland, and rocky hillsides.

    Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii Usage

    Ornamental

    Mediterranean Spurge is a very decorative plant. Its distinctive features make it an appealing visual element. It can be successfully used in the following ways:

    1- Accent plant,  due to its distinctive shape, texture and showy flowers.

    2- In any style of xeriscape, due to its drought tolerance and ability to thrive in poor soil conditions. When planted among rocks and gravel, it creates a naturalistic display.

    3- In containers, making it a versatile option for patios, balconies, or small gardens. Its architectural form can make a statement when placed in a stylish container.

    4- Edging or border plant along garden borders or pathways to create a defined edge. 

    When choosing the ideal spot for Euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfenii in your garden, it’s important to consider its height and width. Allow ample space for its growth to avoid overcrowding.

    Like some other Euphorbia species, exercise caution when handling this plant, as its milky sap may cause skin irritation.

    Medicinal

    Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii was used to treat wounds and warts in folk medicine (source).

    Biodiversity

    Euphorbia flowers attract a wide array of insects and pollinators, including bees, butterflies, hoverflies, and beetles. This plant is a valuable asset to the biodiversity of your garden making it an excellent choice if you are a wildlife enthusiast.

    How to care for Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

    Cold exposure

    This plant is moderately frost-hardy and tolerates temperatures down to -12ºC (10ºF) as long as the soil is well drained. Cold and humid soil can be fatal to it.

    In colder regions, where temperatures can drop below freezing, it may experience some frost damage. However, it can typically recover and regrow from the base or lower parts of the plant.

    Add a thick layer of mulch to shelter the roots from low temperatures. It is best to use gravel, but you can also opt for bark or wood chips.

    Sun exposure

    Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii can be grown in full sun or semi-shade.

    In areas with extremely hot climates or intense sunlight, some protection from the afternoon sun may be beneficial to prevent leaf scorch. Providing partial shade during the hottest part of the day can help protect the plant from excessive heat and intense sunlight.

    Soil

    It prefers well-drained stony, or sandy soils. It dislikes soggy soil, which makes it more exposed to fungal diseases that cause root rot. So avoid planting it in places where moisture is stagnant.

    It grows well in most types of soils: mildly acidic, neutral and mildly alkaline.

    Watering

    Mediterranean Spurge is drought tolerant and can go for an extended period without water once it is established (about 5 months of drought if the temperature is not too hot). 

    Once established, it should not be watered during the summer to avoid creating hot and humid conditions that could potentially foster fungal infections. However, you should water it in prolonged drought or exceptionally high temperatures. Remember to allow the soil to dry out thoroughly between watering sessions.

    In the first year after planting, watering the young Euphorbia every two to three weeks during the summer is essential. This is because the plant is still growing its roots and needs extra water until they can reach deeper into the soil to get water on their own. This helps the plant stay healthy and hydrated as it gets established.

    When watering it, you need to do it abundantly, giving the soil a generous soak so the water can penetrate deeply into the soil to allow its roots to grow deeply. Deep roots will allow the plant to survive longer periods of drought because the lower layers of the soil keep moist for more time.
    To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the plant. Gravel is the best option for mulching.

    Pruning

    Although pruning Mediterranean Spurge  is not mandatory, occasional pruning can help improve its appearance, control growth, and maintain a healthier plant.

    You may want to prune your Spurge for the following reasons:

    • To remove any dead or damaged parts 
    • Cut the old flowered stems down to the base in late summer or early autumn to allow new stems to grow more vigorously.

    Whenever touching your euphorbia plant, it is best to wear gloves to avoid skin irritation when touching the milky sap.

    Other Conditions

    Mediterranean spurge is known to have some tolerance to salt spray. While it may not be as salt-tolerant as some other coastal plants, it can still handle moderate salt levels in the air.

    When to plant Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

    The best season to plant is typically in the spring or autumn, depending on your climate. It’s advisable to avoid planting during periods of extreme temperatures.

    If you live in a location with moderate weather, you should preferably plant in the autumn season. By doing so, the plant gets a chance to develop its roots during the cooler months before the arrival of summer’s hot temperatures. However, if you encounter severe winters, it’s better to wait until spring when the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up, creating a more favourable environment for the plant to thrive.

    How to propagate Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

    The best way to propagate Mediterranean spurge is from seed or stem cuttings in early spring.

    Once the plant is established, and if it is in the ideal conditions, it will self-seed. So if you want this to happen, don´t deadhead it after flowering.

    A good online source for plant propagation techniques can be found in RHS propagation article.

    If you prefer books, I can recommend the following:

    • Creative propagation: a grower’s guide by Thompson, Peter,
    • RHS Propagating Plants: How to Create New Plants For Free by Alan Toogood, Royal Horticultural Society

    Sources

    Books

    I researched this plant in the following books, which I highly recommend you read. They won´t disappoint you!

    By clicking on the book images, you’ll be transported to the Amazon website. And here’s a little secret: when you purchase through these links, you support my work without any additional cost, enabling me to continue creating interesting content for you!

    Dry gardening bookcover of Dry gardening book
    cover of Field  Guidebook
    cover of RHS Propagation bookRHS Propagation book

    Internet

    Article from North Carolina Extension

    Article from Kew

    Article from Le Jardin Sec

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