Neglected in garden, crown of thorns makes a fast comeback

A single stalk of crown of thorns came to life in my daughter's studio recently. She'd given it up for lost, totally abandoning it for weeks. It had been placed on the edge of the sink there, where it only waited to be thrown out. A few drops of water must have splashed on it and lo, one morning there it was -- a wierd spiny branch, completely leafless, yet with an incredible scarlet bloom halfway up.

(The true flower, of course, was much more inconspicuous. That wouuld be the five-petaled rosette nestled between the pair of red bracts.)

It looked too precious to be real, surrounded as it was by a chartreuse glow. Euphorbia splendensm is certainly a strange plant, an appealing succulent. Right now half a dozen cuttings are rooted in small pots on my own den window sill, ready to --

The leaves are small, round, and jade, tending to go yellow and drop at times. So the plant can cut back on growth and stubbornly sustain life when nature decrees.

I must try not to let the soil dry out too long; nor drown it, either. The flowers bloom erratically year-round, tapering off in the fall. I summer it outside under a tree where it doesn't seem to mind being ignored.

The flowers come in pairs at the tips of crooked branches. They start out pale green and go to apricot to pink to a brilliant carmine color. The genus Euphorbiam includes many relatives of the crown of thorns, such as poinsettia, spurge, milkweed, and snow-on-the-mountain.

All have small flowers with showy bracts and acrid milky juice.

When propagating it's advisable to cut a 6-inch or so end off the parent plant, and then let it rest a few days on the windowsill. This prevents rotting. Pot it in moist sand, keeping it in dim light until roots form.

A mixture of sand, loam, and humus, with decent drainage (plus a south window) earns appreciation. Any liquid fertilizer can be used sparsely.

Euphorbus, the name borrowed for the plant's botanical classification, was that of two Greek figures. The first was a legendary Trojan hero in the Spartan war against Troy. The other Euphorbus -- the one I think the plant means to honor -- was a physician to King Juba of Mauritania (Africa) and married to the daughter of Antony and Cleopatra.

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