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Euphorbia mellifera Euphorbiaceae
 

honey spurge (Euphorbia mellifera) by Brendan Lange

 

As you make your way up the winding path to the top of Heidelberg Hill in the Garden’s Mediterranean collection, you will find yourself amongst the branches of a striking evergreen shrub with a sweet ambrosia scent. This plant is Euphorbia mellifera, more commonly known as the honey spurge. This architectural shrub is native to the Canary Islands, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of northwestern Africa. This shrub tolerates heat and drought but will not survive cold or wet winters. Luckily, that means it happily thrives in San Francisco because of our Mediterranean climate!

Over 2,000 spurges exist worldwide in a diversity of life forms from annual or perennial herbs, to cactus-like succulents found in the deserts of southern Africa, to the well-known poinsettias found in the tropical forests of Mexico.

The species name mellifera means "honey-bearing" and refers to the sweet honey-scented flowers that adorn the end of its branches. Euphorbias have highly unusual flowers. The flowers are imperfect, or unisexual, meaning their male and female reproductive parts are found on separate, individual flowers. The female flowers have the ovaries tethered to the flower like a ball on a rope in a unique structure called a cyathium. The male flowers are reduced to a cluster of their stamens, which bear the pollen. These flowers lack the petals or sepals that are typical of most flowers in other kinds of plants. Instead, the euphorbia flower's reproductive parts are supported underneath by bracts that have evolved to attract pollinators the way petals do on other flowers. Look closely at these modified flowers to see if you can tell the difference between the males and females!

Take care when handling any euphorbias as all plants in their family produce a milky sap called "latex" that will irritate your skin. Don't be put off though-this sap helps protect them from herbivory, keeping your plant looking beautiful and pest-free.

Euphorbia mellifera makes an excellent specimen plant as well as a large evergreen backdrop to display smaller plants against. It is even rumored that euphorbias can act as gopher deterrents! Prune back this shrub's flowers to encourage increased vegetative growth or leave them to bloom so you can enjoy their odd floral display and sweet fragrance.

IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and profile by Sarah Callan. Photos by Joanne Taylor, Mona Bourell, Sarah Callan and Brendan Lange.

Location

Euphorbia mellifera can be found
Mediterranean Garden on Heidelberg Hill Beds 28 and 71A

Visiting Info >>
Map (Bed Numbers) >>

Profile

Scientific Name Euphorbia mellifera
Common Names honey spurge
Family Euphorbiaceae
Plant Type Perennial shrub
Environment Sunny exposure, well-drained soil. Drought tolerant, but does not do well with frost.
Bloom Masses yellow to reddish of honey-scented flowers at tips of branches
Uses Large backdrop to smaller plants in garden, or as accent specimen. Gophers avoid euphorbias and may be inhibited to eat nearby plants.
 
 
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Aloe arborescens

Erica spp.

January

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

February

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Acacia pravissima

March

Ceanothus spp.

Ceanothus spp.

April

Euphoria mellifera

Euphoria mellifera

May

Bartlettina sordida

Bartlettina sordida

June

 Rhopalostylis sapida

Rhopalostylis sapida

August

 Rhopalostylis sapida

Berberis darwinii

September

 Rhopalostylis sapida

Araucaria heterophylla

October

 Jubaea chilensis

Jubaea chilensis

November

Aloe arborescens

Aloe arborescens

January

Magnolia stellata

Magnolia stellata

February

<em>Narcissus</em> spp.

Narcissus spp.

March

Cantua buxifolia

Polylepis spp.

April

Davidia involucrata

Davidia involucrata

May

Digitalis spp.

Digitalis spp.

June

Cantua buxifolia

Gunnera tinctoria

July

Cantua buxifolia

Liriodendron chinense

August

Cantua buxifolia

Cycads of the Ancient Plant Garden

September

Persea americana

Persea americana

October

Persea americana

Iochroma spp.

November

Camellia spp.

Camellia spp.

Deecember

Fitzroya cupressoides

Fitzroya cupressoides

January

Polyspora longicarpa

Polyspora longicarpa

February

Polyspora longicarpa

Magnolia laevifolia

March

Cantua buxifolia

Cantua buxifolia

April

Papaver rhoeas

Papaver rhoeas

May

Strelitzia reginae

Strelitzia reginae

June

Cestrum elegans

Cestrum elegans

July

Dichroa febrifuga

Dichroa febrifuga

August

Dichroa febrifuga

Sequoia sempervirens

September

Cestrum elegans

Salvia confertifolia

October

Cestrum elegans

Nerine bowdenii

November

Cestrum elegans

Protea lepidocarpodendron

December

Magnolia campbellii

Magnolia campbellii

January

Magnolia doltsopa

Magnolia doltsopa

February

Magnolia liliiflora

Magnolia liliiflora

March

Vireya Rhododendrons

Vireya Rhododendrons

April

Leucospermum spp.

Leucospermum spp.

May

Senna multiglandulosa

Senna multiglandulosa

June

Tagetes lemmonii

Tagetes lemmonii

July

Eucomis spp.

Eucomis spp.

August

Cuphea spp.

Cuphea spp.

September

Phyllocladus trichomanoides

Phyllocladus trichomanoides

October

Phyllocladus trichomanoides

Saurauia Madrensis

November

Pinus pseudostrobus

Pinus pseudostrobus

December

Magnolia dawsoniana

Magnolia dawsoniana

January

Magnolia campbellii 'Strybing White'

Magnolia campbellii 'Strybing White'

February

Magnolia laevifolia'Strybing Compact'

Magnolia laevifolia 'Strybing Compact'

March

Aristolochia californica

Aristolochia californica

April

Chlorogalum pomeridianum

Chlorogalum pomeridianum

May

Arbutus menziesii

Arbutus menziesii

June

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteri

July

Cistus sp.

Cistus sp.

August

Rosmarinus sp.

Rosmarinus sp.

September

Dahlia spp.

Dahlia spp.

October

Salvia cacaliifolia

Salvia cacaliifolia

November

Salvia cacaliifolia

Salvia microphylla
'Hot Lips'

November

Magnolia campbellii

Magnolia campbellii

January

Magnolia denudata

Magnolia denudata

February

Magnolia x veitchii

Magnolia x veitchii

March

Iris douglasiana

Iris douglasiana

April

Aesculus californica

Aesculus californica

May

Vaccinium ovatum

Vaccinium ovatum

June

Sambucus racemosa

Sambucus racemosa

July

Sequoia sempervirens

Sequoia sempervirens

August

Asarum caudatum

Asarum caudatum

September

Deppea splendens

Deppea splendens

October

Montanoa spp.

Montanoa spp.

November

Bidens sp.

Bidens sp.

December

Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'

Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'

January

Magnolia campbellii 'Darjeeling'

Magnolia campbellii 'Darjeeling'

February

Bomaria spp.

Bomarea spp.

March

Rhododendron occidentale

Rhododendron occidentale

April

Polystichum munitum

Polystichum munitum

May

x Chiranthofremontia lenzii

x Chiranthofremontia lenzii

June

Salvia leucantha

Salvia leucantha

July

Hydrangea seemannii

Hydrangea seemannii

August

Wollemia nobilis

Wollemia nobilis

September

Cyathea cooperi

Cyathea cooperi

October

Pinus radiata

Pinus radiata

November

Correa spp.

Correa spp.

December

Garrya elliptica

Garrya elliptica

January

Magnolia x soulangeana

Magnolia x soulangeana

February

Senecio glastifolius

Senecio glastifolius

March

Ribes spp.

Ribes spp.

April

Oxalis oregana

Oxalis oregana

May

Calandrinia grandiflora

Calandrinia grandiflora

June

Taxus baccata

Taxus baccata

July

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteri

August

Passiflora parritae

Passiflora parritae

September

Malvaviscus arboreus

Malvaviscus arboreus

October

Monterey Cypress

Monterey Cypress

November

Aloe arborescens

Aloe arborescens

December

Aloe plicatilis

Aloe plicatilis

January

Banksia seminuda

Banksia seminuda

February

Zantedeschia elliottiana

Zantedeschia aethiopica

March

Magnolia laevifolia

Magnolia laevifolia

April

Araucaria heterophylla

Araucaria heterophylla

May

Toxicodendron diversilobum

Toxicodendron diversilobum

June

Clarkia sp.

Clarkia sp.

July

Agapanthus

Agapanthus

August

Brugmansia

Brugmansia

September

Cedrus spp.

Cedrus spp.

October

Protea repens

Protea repens

November

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis

December

Thujopsis dolabrata

Thujopsis dolabrata

January

Gordonia longicarpa

Gordonia longicarpa

February

Rojasianthe superba

Rojasianthe superba

March

Echium spp.

Echium spp.

April

Iris douglasiana

Iris douglasiana

May

Digitalis purpurea

Digitalis purpurea

June

Felicia amelloides

Felicia amelloides

July

Ceroxylon quindiuense

Ceroxylon quindiuense

August

Amaryllis belladonna

Amaryllis belladonna

September

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba

October

Acer morrisonense

Acer morrisonense

November

Ilex aquifolium

Ilex aquifolium

December

Picea sitchensis

Picea sitchensis

January

Telanthophora grandifolia

Telanthophora grandifolia

February

Aeonium arboreum 'Schwartzkopf'

Aeonium arboreum 'Schwartzkopf'

March

Leptospermum Spp.

Leptospermum

April

Salvia gesneraeflora

Salvia gesneraeflora

May

Lavandula spp.

Lavandula spp.

June

Pelargonium

Pelargonium

July

Fuchsia paniculata

Fuchsia paniculata

August

Luma apiculata

Luma apiculata

September

Luculia

Luculia

October

Arbutus unedo

Arbutus unedo

November

Cycads

Cycad

December

Restionaceae

Restionaceae

January

Hellebores

Hellebores

February

Ceanothus

Ceanothus

March

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

April

Psoralea pinnata

Psoralea pinnata

May

Fremontodendron californicum

Fremontodendron californicum

June

Leucadendron argenteum

Leucadendron argenteum

July

Crocosmia

Crocosmia

August

Gunnera tinctoria

Gunnera tinctoria

September

Pellaea rotundifolia

Pellaea rotundifolia

October

Fuchsia boliviana

Fuchsia boliviana

November

Erica canaliculata

Erica canaliculata

December

Magnolia campbelli

Magnolia campbelli

January

Magnolia denudata

Magnolia denudata

February

Camellia

Camellia

March

Geranium maderense

Geranium maderense

April

Acmena smithii

Acmena smithii

May

Eschscholzia californica

Eschscholzia californica

June

Dendromecon harfordii

Dendromecon harfordii

July

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteri

August

Eupatorium purpureum

Eupatorium purpureum

September

Epilobium canum sp.

Epilobium canum sp.

October

Grevillea spp.

Grevillea spp.

November

Drimys winteri

Drimys winteri

December

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