Is the Firestick Plant Toxic?

The firestick plant (Euphorbia tirucalli), also called the pencil cactus, looks quite harmless due to the visual appearance of the plant. But is the firestick plant toxic?

firestick plant toxic
Unfortunately, the beautiful firestick succulent is toxic [photo by CarbonNYC [in SF!]]

The firestick plant, which comes from Africa, belongs to the spurge family and these are poisonous. Unfortunately, this also applies to the firestick plant and to all parts of the plant. Hence, it is not an ideal houseplant for families with young children or pets.

You should exercise a certain degree of caution when handling this plant. As with other euphorbias , if the plant is damaged, the caustic, milk-white sap immediately escapes from the firestick plant.

Firestick Plant – Deceptively Poisonous

Since Euphorbia tirucalli as a succulent shrub only needs to be watered about once a week, it has achieved a certain distribution as an easy-care and exotic-looking indoor plant. But that shouldn't hide the fact that the plant (like so many other indoor and garden plants) can be fatal for inexperienced children and pets.

Beware of the Sap

If Euphorbia tirucalli stands undisturbed in a suitable location in the plant pot by the window, the attractive shrub with the decoratively thickened twigs does not have an immediate harmful effect. However, to prevent dangerous skin irritation and symptoms of poisoning from the sap, you should observe the following safety instructions:

Never leave children and pets unattended in a room with a firestick plant
Wear protective gloves when pruning
If the milky sap comes into contact, wash it off immediately with plenty of clean water

How to Prune a Firestick Plant

how to prune a firestick plant
If the firestick plant becomes too big, it can be cut back [photo by cultivar413]

The winter months are a good time for a simple maintenance pruning, as then a little less of the poisonous white milky sap escapes from the interfaces of the plant . This “bleeding” from the pencil bush can also coagulate more quickly and thus be stopped if cloths soaked in hot water are applied.

It is not necessary to prune the firestick plant, which typically grows in a very “disorganized” manner, since there are no leaves to interfere with ventilation and light, as would be the case with fruit trees with dense tree tops. If obtaining cuttings for propagation, it is ideal to do it in spring or early summer.

When taking cuttings of the firestick plant for propagation, take note of the following:

  • Use the best possible mature shoots of the firestick plant
  • Use clean, sharp cutting tools
  • Take cuttings about 12 to 15 cm long
  • Make cuts directly under a leaf node
  • Allow the cuttings to dry for 48 hours before placing them in the substrate
  • Choose a warm and bright, but not full sun, location for the cuttings

What to consider when cutting Firestick Succulents

Since mere skin or mucous membrane contact with the white milky sap of the spurge family can lead to serious health problems, neither children nor pets should be around when pruning a firestick plant. Wearing gloves and washing the milky sap off your hands or other body parts immediately is strongly advised. The cuttings that dry before further processing should be kept in a safe place where unsuspecting third parties cannot come into contact with them.

Pro Tip:

If a densely branched pencil cactus is cut back, it is not uncommon for a plant with numerous cuts to be left behind. To ensure that the latex that gets into the airways through evaporation does not have a negative impact on health, a room with a freshly cut pencil cactus should be particularly well ventilated in the first few days after the cut.

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