Crown of Thorns
(Christ Plant, and Siamese Lucky Plant)
Euphorbia milii = splendens
Spurge (Euphorbiaceae) Family
The common names allude to the legend that the Euphorbia
Milii worn by Christ at the time of his crucifixion was made
from stems of this plant. Interestingly, the stems of this plant
are pliable and can be intertwined into a circle. There exists
substantial evidence that the species, native to Madagascar,
was brought to the Middle East before the time of Christ.
The Crown of Thorns plant is a woody, spiny, climbing succulent
shrub with shoots reaching a height of 6 feet. The leaves emerge
primarily on young growth, and the plant may defoliate completely
if put under moisture or temperature stress. Subsequent growth
will bear new leaves. The flowers show nearly all year, and especially
in the winter. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, but the
brightly colored modified leaves (bracts) found just beneath
the flowers are exquisite. The fruit is a small fleshy berry.
Euphorbia - Euphorbus was the Greek physician of King Juba
II (about 50 BC to 19 AD) of Numidia (present day Algeria). King
Juba II was the first person to find a succulent-type Euphorbia,
and he named it after his physician. Milii
- named for Baron Milius, once governor of the island of Bourbon,
who introduced the species into cultivation in France in 1821.
Splendens - This older species name means splendid.
The plant is a member of the Spurge family. It is a large
family, including such plants as the Poinsettia, Castor Bean,
the rubber-bearing plants of the genus Hevea, and the Cassava
(from which we get tapioca). Most members of the Spurge family
exude a sticky white sap (latex) from any cut surface. The latex
is found in special branching tubes called latex tubes.
The latex may produce a severe dermatitis on susceptible
individuals, much like poison ivy. Generally poisonous if ingested
in large amounts, the latex undoubtedly contributes to the protection
of the plants from herbivores (plant consuming organisms). The
latex of some species has been used for arrow poisons and to
stupefy fish for capture. Euphorbias are not planted near stocked
pools since the exudate from broken roots can be fatal to fish.
Despite its poisonous properties, in the past the latex had been
used for medicinal purposes. The common name for the family,
Spurge, comes from the same root as purge or expurgate, alluding
to its properties if taken internally.
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