by germinatrix | March 8th, 2010
When you live in a place like Southern California, where there is no snow, where the skies are usually sunny, where a cold snap means you are wearing a sweater instead of a tank top, how do you know when spring is coming?
Before I was a gardener, I had no idea about the subtlety of the seasons. If it was cold – it was winter, if it was hot – it was summer; spring and fall were those times in between that people on the East Coast made a big deal about. I imagine that if your winter has been dark, bleak, and covered with snow, then it is an incredible thing to see the first sturdy green shoots pushing themselves up out of thawing soil, and I understand how the sight of swelling buds on naked branches would make your heart beat faster. But for me, there has been beauty all winter long! Grasses have been feathery and dancing with the winter winds. Aloes have been blooming with a crazy abandon. Passionflowers never stop! What could spring mean for the no-holds barred beauty bazaar that is my part of the world?
Well, whatever it means, for me, spring is very anticipated, and I can say why in one word: Euphorbias.
I am constantly saying that this plant is my favorite or that I die over that plant, (I can’t help it! My heart is too big!) but there is a special place that euphorbias will always occupy in my garden palettes. This is a huge family of plants; the ones I particularly adore are the perennial euphorbias with the strange domes of blooms – these are my personal heralds of spring.
People adore euphorbias. Almost every client requests euphorbias, and I am super happy to use them in any planting scheme! The only hitch has been bad press – many websites targeted to mothers of young children have identified euphorbias as “poisonous”. There is a near hysteria brewing on the web about the horrors of euphorbia sap – if ONE DROP gets on your skin or in your eye it can cause blindness or death!!!
I have read pages and pages of stories about the awful things that have happened to people who merely brush up against euphorbias, or herds of cattle whose faces were maimed because they walked through a stand of Euphorbia tirucalli. There is the story of the man in South Africa who died because euphorbia latex got into his eye and created a massive infected ulcer. I think this is an urban myth. I want pictures of this man. I will not be afraid of one of my favorite plants because of a worldwide campaign of terror being waged by overprotective Moms! (True story – a woman rang my doorbell, holding her daughter’s hand, and asked me if I was aware that the euphorbias I planted in my front yard were poisonous and could put her child in danger. I told her if she believed that, it would be a good idea to keep her child out of my garden – especially when I never invited her there in the first place.)
I have had euphorbia sap all over me. The worst thing that has ever happened is the inside of my elbow was itchy for a few hours. I accidentally rubbed my eye once after I cut my E. ‘Stix on Fire’ – it didn’t feel good, but rubbing my eyes after handling chile peppers feels WAY worse. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones. As I understand it, the milky sap of euphorbias can cause a dermatological reaction in those who are sensitive to latex. Okay, not good – but should we REALLY demonize this fantastic, useful, drought tolerant garden superstar because of a rash? Even if it’s a bad rash? There are LOTS of plants we use in gardens that are toxic on some level – let’s not go crazy over the bad plant of the year, okay?
Relax and enjoy the show. It’s just beginning…