A Word Of Warning About Pruning Euphorbias

Euphorbias are wonderful but there’s something you should be aware of when pruning Euphorbias.

Oh, the wonderful world of Euphorbias! There are over 2000 species of them and most share this 1 thing in common.

I wanted to do this post for those of you who are new to this genus which includes poinsettias, the crown of thorns, Mediterranean spurge and flowering spurge because most of them emit, ooze or bleed a milky sap when pruned. This sap is toxic and some euphorbias, like my pencil cactus (shown above), contain much more of it than others.

Now don’t go into full out worry mode because many common plants are toxic like wisteria, hydrangeas, mums, English ivy, oleander, and azaleas, but we don’t eat them. I just want to emphasize that you should keep this sap away from your eyes, lips, and mouth. So, don’t prune a euphorbia and then inadvertently decide to rub your eyes or scratch your lip.

Also, some people are very sensitive to this sap when it gets on their skin. It can irritate and cause a rash and even blistering and pain. I’ve gotten it on my skin a few times and it hasn’t been a problem but it’s something for you to be aware of.

I’m in my back yard with my pencil cactus so you can see this sap oozes out when the plant is cut:

I don’t prune my pencil cactus (aka Euphorbia tirucalli in botanic circles) very often, but when I do, I always have a rag in hand to catch and eventually to help stop the flow of the sap. That usually takes around 5 minutes and that it can really spill out so I’d recommend having a rag or paper towel in hand when pruning euphorbias. Another thing: the sap can stain your clothing so it’s best to not to wear your gucci jeans when doing the clip clip.


Make sure your pruners are clean & sharp before pruning euphorbias, or any plants for that matter. You’ll definitely need to clean them after because the sap leaves a sticky residue.


The sap drips out like crazy at 1st so I always try to catch it & wrap a rag around the stem to help stop it.


The trunk will bleed where it’s been pruned so I usually wipe that off.

The pencil cactus is the only euphorbia I have in my garden. But in my many years as a professional gardener, I’ve pruned boatloads of euphorbias. I’m still alive, have both my eyes as well as my tongue and relatively unscarred skin.

This post is not written to scare you off from euphorbias but to give you a head’s up to be careful when pruning them. After all, the wildly popular sticks of fire (this is the colorful version of my pencil cactus) is a euphorbia and it captivates most plant lovers I know!

Happy (Sap Safe) Gardening,

Nell's signature

Poinsettias are the most popular and common euphorbias. They’re grown and sold the world over. Despite the sap, they make it into our homes every holiday season!

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  1. Hi Mart – It’s easy. Heal the stem off for a few days & plant it in succulent & cactus mix. Don’t let it dry out while rooting but don’t keep it too wet either. Nell

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