Euphorbia myrsinites (Myrtle Spurge)

Euphorbia myrsinites is commonly known as Myrtle Spurge, Donkeytail Spurge or Creeping Spurge.

It´s an evergreen, multistemmed perennial that forms a dense, sprawling mat. The trailing stems look like tentacles and are covered with tightly arranged spirals of fleshy, pointed greyish-blue leaves. 

During early spring, clusters of flowers adorned with captivating yellow-green bracts emerge gracefully at the tips of the stems.

Euphorbia myrsinites is a drought-tolerant hardy plant native to southeastern Europe and western Asia.

Euphorbia myrsinites plant (Myrtle Spurge, creeping spurge)


Quick Overview

TYPE

Type herbaceous

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Euphorbia myrsinites height and width

BLOOM TIME

Euphorbia myrsinites bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-15ºC / 5º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

Origin east Europe and southwest Asia

Myrtle Spurge Scientific name

  • Botanical name:  Euphorbia myrsinties  (yoo-FOR-bee-uh mer-sin-EYE-teez )
  • Family:  Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name:  Myrtle Spurge, Donkeytail Spurge or Creeping Spurge.
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.
myrsinitesDerives from the Greek word “myrsinos” which means “like myrsine”, the Greek word for myrtle. Referring to the similarity of the plant’s leaves to those of the myrtle plant.

How to identify Euphorbia myrsinites

Euphorbia myrsinites plant (Myrtle Spurge, creeping spurge)

Plant

Euphorbia myrsinites is an evergreen multi-stemmed herbaceous perennial that forms a spreading mat.

The trailing stems are covered with fleshy grey-blue leaves and have a striking yellow-green inflorescence at the tip.

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 handling the plant with care and using protective gear is essential.

The plant has an average height of 20 cm  (0.6 ft)  and a width of 40 to  50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft)

Euphorbia myrsinites stem (Myrtle Spurge, creeping spurge)

Stem

The stems of Euphorbia myrsinites are prostrate and spread out from the centre, reaching a length of about 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in).

The top of the stem is usually green and covered with a spiral of grey-blue leaves, while the base is whitish and woody.

Bright yellow-green inflorescences grow at the tip of the stems, gracefully arching upward.

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.

Euphorbia myrsinites leaf (Myrtle Spurge, creeping spurge)

Leaf

The leaf is fleshy and often has a powdery or waxing coating that gives it a greyish-blue colour.

The leaves are alternate and arranged spirally along the stem.

It is simple with an oval, pointed shape, resembling the myrtle leaf, hence the common name Myrtle Spurge.

The leaf length is, on average, 2 to 4 cm  (0.8 to 1.5 in) long. 

Euphorbia myrsinites flower (Myrtle Spurge, creeping spurge)

Flower

The inflorescence consists of several cyathia arranged in a terminal cyme.

A cyathium is a specialized flower structure found 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 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 early spring and continue until early summer. 

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    Euphorbia myrsinites Habitat

    Euphorbia myrsinites is commonly seen in Mediterranean regions, as well as in parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

    Its natural habitat typically includes rocky, dry, and well-drained soils, and is often found in rocky slopes, cliffs and dry meadows.

    Is Euphorbia myrsinites invasive?

    Euphorbia myrsinites has been introduced as an ornamental plant in some areas of the world. In these non-native habitats, it can sometimes become invasive and outcompete native vegetation.

    So you may want to check the local regulations and guidelines before planting Myrtle spurge to ensure it won’t cause harm to the local ecosystem.

    Euphorbia myrsinites Usage

    Ornamental

    Myrtle spurge is highly sought after for its unique and attractive appearance. Its trailing stems with grey-blue leaves and vibrant yellow-green flowers add a splash of colour to gardens and containers.

    Its a great option for 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.

    Its cascading tentacle-like stems create a stunning effect on containers and retaining walls.

    I must add that while Euphorbia myrsinites (Myrtle Spurge) is a popular ornamental plant, like some other Euphorbia species, it also has a milky sap that can cause skin irritation and is toxic if ingested. So you need to handle it with caution. Also, for this reason, you should not plant it in your garden if you have children or pets.

    How to care for Euphorbia myrsinites

    Cold exposure

    This plant is frost-hardy and tolerates temperatures down to -15ºC (5ºF) or less 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. Due to its trailing habit, organic mulches may retain too much moisture and may cause the stems to rot.

    Sun exposure

    Euphorbia myrsinites 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. If possible, provide partial shade during the hottest part of the day to 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

    Myrtle 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, in cases of prolonged drought or exceptionally high temperatures, you should water it. Remember to allow the soil to dry out thoroughly between watering sessions.

    In the first year after planting, it’s important to water the young Euphorbia every two to three weeks during the summer. This is because the plant is still growing its roots and needs extra water until it can reach deeper into the soil to get water on its 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 plant’s root area. Gravel is the best option for mulching. 

    Pruning

    Although pruning Myrtle  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 
    • To allow new stems to grow more vigorously, cut the old flowered stems down to the base in late summer or early autumn.
    • To prevent its spread in regions where this plant tends to be invasive, you will need to remove the faded flowers before they can disperse their seeds.

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

    When to plant Euphorbia myrsinites

    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 myrsinites

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

    Once the plant is established, and if it is in the ideal conditions, it will self-seed abundantly. It can project its seeds up to 5 meters (15 feet). So you should remove flowers shortly after they are faded to prevent unwanted spreading. 

    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

    Sources of information used for this article

    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!

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

    Internet

    Article from North Carolina Extension

    Article from Kew

    Article from Le Jardin Sec

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