Euphorbia rigida (Gopher Spurge)

Euphorbia rigida, known as Gopher Spurge, Silver Spurge or Rigid Spurge, is a medium-sized evergreen plant. Its unique architectural cushion form gives it a striking appearance, resembling a living sculpture that adds interest to your garden all year round.

It has narrow, pointy blue-green leaves that spiral along the erect, angular stems, forming striking geometric patterns. 

At the top of the stems, clusters of spectacular bright yellow flowers start to bloom in mid-winter, adding a burst of vibrancy to the season. During spring, these flowers gradually change to pink and finally to an intense red that truly catches the eye.

Euphorbia rigida is a drought-tolerant hardy plant native to the Mediterranean region, specifically Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.

Euphorbia rigida plant (Gopher Spurge, Silver Spurge, Rigid Spurge)

Quick Overview

TYPE

Type herbaceous

HEIGHT & WIDTH

euphorbia rigida height and width

BLOOM TIME

Euphorbia rigida bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-15ºC / 5º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Gopher Spurge Scientific name

  • Botanical name: Euphorbia rigida (yoo-FOR-bee-uh RIG-ih-duh)
  • Family:  Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name:  Gopher Spurge, Silver Spurge or Rigid 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.
rigida“rigida” is derived from the Latin word “rigidus,” meaning rigid or stiff. Referring to the rigid, upright stems.

How to identify Euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia rigida plant (Gopher Spurge, Silver Spurge, Rigid Spurge)

Plant

Euphorbia rigida is a medium-sized evergreen herbaceous perennial that forms a rounded cushion shape. Its stems are upright or slightly reclining and emerge from a central point. These stems are rigid, hence the common name Euphorbia rigida, and topped with clusters of striking flowers.

It’s worth noting that Euphorbia rigida 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 40 to 50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft)  and a width of 60 cm (2  ft).

Euphorbia rigida stem (Gopher Spurge, Silver Spurge, Rigid Spurge)

Stem

The stems are sturdy and covered with a spiral arrangement of narrow pointy leaves, forming a striking geometric pattern. This arrangement is not only visually captivating but also serves a significant purpose.

Each leaf is positioned in a way that is slightly offset from the one above it, following a pattern known as the Fibonacci Spiral. This clever positioning ensures that each leaf receives ample sunlight without shading the ones beneath it. Thus maximizing the absorption of sunlight.

The stems are topped with clusters of striking yellow flowers.

Euphorbia rigida leaf (Gopher Spurge)

Leaf

The leaf is blue-green, fleshy and hairless, covered with an impermeable wax that gives it a bluish tone and helps reflect the sun during the hot summer days.

The blue-green colour changes to a reddish-bronze tone when colder temperatures arrive during autumn. 

It is simple, with a lanceolate pointed shape and a slightly thickened midrib running down the centre. This midrib provides structure and support to the leaf, helping it maintain its shape.

The leaf length is, on average, 2 to 4 cm  (0.8 to 1.6 in) long. But this can vary depending on age and the plant’s growing conditions.

Euphorbia rigida flower (Gopher Spurge, Silver Spurge, Rigid 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 is a single female flower, the pistillate flower, consisting 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 colourful bracts, with small green or reddish glands on the border.

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

The flowers start blooming in mid-winter and go on to early summer. 

When they first bloom in the winter, they have a bright yellow colour which gradually turns to pink as spring approaches and finally turns into an intense red at the beginning of summer.


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    Euphorbia rigida Habitat

    Euphorbia rigida is native to the Mediterranean basin where its natural habitat typically includes rocky slopes, dry hillsides, and open areas with well-drained soil.  

    It often grows in coastal areas, along roadsides, and in open grasslands. 

    While it can tolerate higher altitudes, its natural distribution is typically below 1000 m (3280 ft).

    Euphorbia rigida Usage

    Ornamental

    Euphorbia rigida can be an excellent addition to a garden, adding visual interest and unique characteristics. 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. It looks really lovely in rock gardens. 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. Its low-growing habit and neat appearance can help structure and delineate the garden.

    5- Wildlife gardens due to their ability to attract many types of insects.

    Remember to consider the growth habits and requirements of Euphorbia rigida when selecting its placement in the garden. Ensure it has adequate space to grow, and keep in mind its potential spread and height to prevent overcrowding.

    Also, be cautious when handling the plant, as, like some other Euphorbia species, its milky sap can cause skin irritation.

    Biodiversity

    Euphorbia flowers attract many insects and pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, hoverflies, and beetles. This plant is a valuable addition to the biodiversity of your garden and is ideal for wildlife gardens.

    How to care for Euphorbia rigida

    Cold exposure

    This plant is frost-hardy and tolerates temperatures down to -15ºC (5ºF) 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, Euphorbia rigida 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 rigida prefers full sun. It thrives in bright, direct sunlight and can tolerate intense heat. Providing it with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day is ideal for its growth and overall health.

    In areas with extremely hot climates or intense sunlight, some protection from the afternoon sun may be beneficial to prevent leaf scorch. Partial shade during the hottest hours 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

    Gopher 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 in the summer because hot damp conditions may lead to fungal infections. However, in prolonged drought or extremely hot weather, you will need to water it, but make sure the soil completely dries out between watering.

    During the first year after planting, you will need to water the young plant every two to three weeks during the summer. When the plant is young, the roots are still not established and will need this extra water until they grow more deeply and can get water on their own at the deeper levels of the soil.

    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 Euphorbia rigida is not strictly necessary, 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.

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

    Other Conditions

    Euphorbia rigida 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 rigida

    The best season to plant Euphorbia rigida 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 place with mild weather, it’s best to plant it in the autumn. This way, the plant can establish its roots during the cooler months before the summer heat arrives. On the other hand, if you experience harsh winters, it’s best to wait until spring when the risk of frost has passed, and the soil has warmed up.

    How to propagate Euphorbia rigida

    The best way to propagate Euphorbia rigida, 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

    Is Euphorbia rigida invasive?

    It’s worth noting that Euphorbia rigida has become naturalized in certain parts of North America, particularly in California, where it has been introduced as an ornamental plant. In these non-native habitats, it can sometimes become invasive and outcompete native vegetation.

    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!

    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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