One of our pollinators is BZZZZZZZBee and you might think that bees are always busy pollinating in the garden but this bee is the exception of the rule. Oh yes; BZZZZZZZBee pollinates but also enjoys life like cuddling with a co-worker and having a break.
See for yourself:
The Euphorbiaceae family consists of around 300 genera and about 7500 species of which approximately 870 are succulents. About 50 genera and 487 species are native to Southern Africa including Madagascar. These figures excludes the numerous varieties and hybrids such as those of the E. milii and E. pulcherrima (pointsettia).
The International Euphorbia Society covers the whole spectrum of this plant family including the non-succulent ones.
General information about succulent Euphorbias can be found here. The most valuable Internet source (including photo’s and cultivation info) however can be sourced at this site.
Euphorbias are named after the Greek surgeon Euphorbus.
Most of the succulent species of the Euphorbia are easy to grow in most parts of South Africa provided that there is sufficient drainage and the humidity is low. High humidity causes mildew and, combined with high temperatures, mealy bugs. Good drainage prevents Euphorbias from root mealy bugs and root rot (caused by fusarium fungus). Plant Euphorbias preferable on a slope and in well drained soil. Large collumnar plants always surrounded by rocks. In general Euphorbias are less susceptible to diseases than other succulent families. In the past we already submitted something about pest and disease control the green way . See also this contribution and these ones.
Propagation can be done by sowing and by means of cuttings.
Some Euphorbia species hybridise easy and to prevent this as much as possible is hand-pollination with a brush. Always plant two of more plants of the same specie next to each other.
As for cuttings: cuttings of succulent Euphorbias can best be taken towards the end of the dormant season. We normally take them towards the end of the South African Summer (February-March) and always in the early morning but preferable in the late afternoon. Keep the cuttings under a running tab until the cutting stops ‘bleeding’ latex. This milky sap is poisonous (always wash your hand afterwards and or wear protective clothing). Let the cuttings dry in a dry shady area with good ventilation for at least 3 to 4 days before planting them.
Sowing seeds from your own plants is the most rewarding way of propagating. You see the seeds germinating and young plants grow into mature ‘ornaments’ in your garden.
There are also a few disadvantages: it’s time consuming and labour extensive.
It all starts with the harvesting and cleaning of the seeds.
Bear in mind that some plants hybridise easily. You might think you have seeds of the Aloe ferox because your harvested the seeds from an A. ferox. But whatif this aloe was pollinated by an Aloe vera? We’ve learned our lesson with this. In the beginning we bought quite a few aloes at one of the National Botanical Gardens in South Africa; all nicely labeled with their botanical names. Almost all turned out to be hybrids. Some cacti and caudiciforms (i.e. cyphostemma sp., pachypodium sp.) also hybridise easily. To avoid this for at least 95 percent it’s the best to plant more succulents of the same specie in a group (not nearby species of the same genus) and pollinate manual with a brush. Manual pollination is also a good way of communicating with your ‘babies’.
The best results are achieved with fresh seeds. In general the viability of the seeds declines in time; sometimes even after a month or so. Take the seed-pods from the plant, wash the seed thoroughly (most of seeds are ‘packed’ in an ‘inhibitor’), let the cleaned seed dry and than sow. That sounds easy but it is not always like that. Special precautions have to be taken when harvesting and cleaning the seeds from amongst others euphorbia- and cyphostemma species. The sap of the cyphostemma berries can cause irritation and that of the euphorbias is poisonous. Wear protective hand-gloves when cleaning those seeds. In the description of the different succulent families and individual plants in the future we will indicate this precaution.
There are several recipes for soil mixtures and sometimes they differ per family, genus or even per specie. Each nursery has its own special recipes and all of these seem sufficient. Most books advise you to use a cactus mix which can be purchased at nurseries. Some succulent nurseries apply vermiculite or perlite mixed with a little bit compost. It works nicely and we have tried it a few times on a small scale with good results. But we do not like to apply unnatural products to our soil mixtures. Another disadvantage on the longer term is that if you keep your plants in the original nursery pots with these unnatural products without re-potting them in a proper mix; their lifespan will be shortened.
For most succulents we use for sowing a simple mix of coarse sand (eventually added with some fine grit) with approx. 5 percent fine compost. Mix this thorougly and add some kelpak (SeaGro) dissolved in water (50 cc kelpak in 10 litres water) until the mix is damp (not wet). Fill the seed-tray(s) with this mix, sow and top it of with a layer of sand with the thickness of the seed. In the heat of Summer we top it with a water retaining layer of sand/clay (1:1) mix or clayish loam. This general method works for at least 90 percent of the different succulents with a high (or at least above 70%) success rate. In the description of the different succulent families and individual plants in the future we’ll come back to this subject.
After sowing keep the soil damp. Depending on the temperature mist-spray regularly. Never let the soil dry out. An option is also to cover the seed-tray with transparent plastic foil. If you seed in pots you can use the top of a cola bottle to achieve the same effect.
As soon as the seeds are germinated take this cover away and give the pots/trays a 10 minutes soak from down under as described in the chapter about cuttings
And again: this is all a rough outline. As described before: it’s all in the fingers (not only in your head or in books). Every gardener develops his/her own way of doing things. This rough outline provides you with a nice start for one of the most rewarding things-to-do.