Questions about Grafting Pencil Cactus (Milkbush, Euphorbia Tirucalli)

Discussion in 'Plant Propagation' started by Elliander, Sep 30, 2008.

  1. Elliander

    Elliander Member

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    What methods are best for grafting branches of a Pencil Cactus together? (two branches from the same plant) Can I simply tie them together and expect to fuse?

    Would Pencil Cactus branches fuse perfectly, like cactus, or be like bark with it not totally fusing?

    Are there any other plants that can be successfully grafted onto a Pencil Cactus? And can Pencil Cactus be grafted onto other plants? For example, could I take a flower from a real cactus (yes, I know Pencil Cactus isn't really a cactus) and expect them to come together? Are there any close relatives of the Pencil Cactus I could try, if I want it to have more flowers? And if there are any plants that could survive winter which it could be grafted onto, would the plant as a whole be winter resistant if the base is, or would the Pencil Cactus portions still die in winter if left outside?

    Also.

    What temperature should I bring the Pencil Cactus inside as? I want to keep it outside as long as possible, but want to bring it inside before it gets too cold.

    If portions become less green, but don't shrivel, should I be worried?

    How deep are the roots, compared to height? And can I transplant it into an oversized pot and expect it to live?

    Thanks.
     
  2. Millet

    Millet Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    As no one has answered this post so I will offer this information. I am no expert on the pencil "cactus", which is not in the cactus family. Pencil cactus is in the Euphorbia family, of which there are 100s of Euphorbias. I would think other Euphorbias could be grafted onto you pencil cactus, by either a side graft or a cleft graft. However, you must be very cautious when working with a Pencil cactus, as it releases a white milk when any part of the plant is cut, or when the plant is injured, which is very poisonous. Avoid getting it on your skin, but especially near your eyes or mouth. - Millet
     
  3. Eric La Fountaine

    Eric La Fountaine Contributor UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    I just want to reiterate the caution. Be very careful with the sap of this plant. Many reports of serious injury from contact with it on these forums.
     
  4. Elliander

    Elliander Member

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    Thanks for the tip on looking into other members of Euphorbia.

    So far I experimented a bit with my plant. Taking Hemp Twine (because it's fully organic and biodegradable.) I tied together various branches in a specific way, hoping it would eliminate the need to take cuttings, by instead encouraging my plant to grow together in such ways, maybe even thicker. I also liked the concept of the branches weaving together with loops.

    However, I did accidentally cut the tip of one branch while cutting the twine. After which plenty of milk gushed out since it was under pressure. I got allot on my hands, and even some in my eye. I was initially worried, since I know it is poisonous, but I also heard that the milk has been used by tribal people's to seal wounds, so I just worried about bending a branch over the whole to seal it up, and a few minutes later went to wash, just in case.

    I experienced NO irritation. At all. None. Not even in the eyes. On the contrary, the most amazing thing happened. Thing is, I am both near sighted and far sighted. I have very bad vision as it is. But I found that while I continued working on my plant, I couldn't see as well through my glasses close up. Taking them off I realized I could see things close up again. It was been a few years since I could do that. I admit, it was only a very minor change, and I still need glasses to see things even a foot away from me, but I am fully amazed at the medicinal value of this wonderful plant.

    So thankfully, I did not experience any allergy, no inflamation, and unlike others I heard about, no temporary blindness, no burning. Granted, it was only a very very small amount that ended up in my eye, and I won't be taking needless risks, but I am so thankful. (This happened 18 hours ago as I write this, and the improvements for the most part are still there.)

    Since I read about it, I learned the milk has been used for everything from Fish poison, to Cancer and Tumor treatment, to Wart treatment, to Gasoline Production. I told a friend about this, and she agreed to have a very small amount of the milk placed on her skin, on a black spot. One to see if she has any allergy, so I could take precautions in the future for her sake, and two, in she didn't I wanted to see if it could be of benefit. We were all prepared to go to the hospital in case it didn't work, and had antihistimines ready. But no inflamation, even hours after, and she didn't wash any off. Neither did it do anything for her spot, but I think it would take many repeated uses and I am not willing to cut up my young plant just for that. I'll wait until I have to prune it.

    As far as that goes, does anyone know how to keep the Liquid from hardening? I know this is probably an odd question, considering so many people go out of their way to avoid it, but since I can enjoy the benefit, I would want to be able to preserve the liquid to use it as needed without waste.

    HOWEVER - I think I will hold off on grafting this plant with any other Euphorbia. Just because I don't have an allergy to this plant doesn't mean I won't to any other.

    But now I am very curious. If I took a Euphorbia that can tolerate winter (is there even one that anyone could suggest?) and grafted it onto this one, since I know the milk would run together, would this make the whole plant cold resistant, or is it something not in the milk that makes it cold resistant.

    I am starting to think that the horror stories and all the stern warnings I keep reading about is really just from those who have allergic reactions. I think that if someone has never been exposed to it before, it couldn't hurt to see what reaction it would have as long as all precautions are taken in case one does have an allergy. Certainly better than accidental exposure and finding out when not ready (like what happened to me.) and can certainly be very good if you find you don't have an allergy.

    I read on this forum in another thread someone else saying they didn't have an allergy to it, no inflamation. So which is more common? The Allergy to the Milk, or the Resistance to the Milk? Is it based on any way on Race? I think that would be a very interesting study to conduct.
     
  5. Elliander

    Elliander Member

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    I would like to suggest a poll somewhere on this forum, for those who own a Euphorbia. It could have the following options.

    - I have been exposed to the milk and had a negative response.
    - I have been exposed to the milk and had no response.
    - I have been exposed to the milk and had a positive response.
    - I own a Euphorbia but have never been exposed.

    As a serious test to see how many within the community have what kind of reactions. It would be helpful to know what reactions are more common.
     
  6. Elliander

    Elliander Member

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    I did some research into kinds of Euphorbia.

    Back to the question of grafting, what I want to goal for here is a plant that has the stick like features of the "Pencil Cactus" but with large beautiful flowers, and winter resistance. So it can be planted outside.

    The image I have in my head is.. The base of Euphorbia caput-medusaes, with cuttings from Euphorbia Tirucalli attached to the ends, with stems of Euphorbia uralensis at the ends.

    While I am not yet sure if the combination is possible, I would assume that if I can encourage the growth to become a graft-chimaera, where the cells continue to grow into one another, it may end up being very interesting looking. Is there any way to encourage it to become a graft-chimaera?
     

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  7. Millet

    Millet Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Here is an article published by the University of Arkansas, concerning what happened to one of their professors who was stricken as a result of his contact with the white milk sap of a pencil cactus. BTW, I used to have a 6 foot tall pencil cactus, it is a very fast growing plant.- Millet

    http://www.arhomeandgarden.org/plantoftheweek/articles/Pencil_Cactus.htm
     
  8. Elliander

    Elliander Member

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    I appreciate all the concern, but really, I'm actually reading too much negative talk about it. I have not personally met anyone who had any kind of a bad reaction. And in fact, on one friend, after applying only one drop - just one - on a mole that was always itchy, and not cleaning it off, just a few weeks later the mole flattened out with her skin and ceased to be itchy. It just looks like a freckle now.

    I keep seeing positive after positive and none of the negatives. I am starting to think this is just a modern day version of the old belief that Tomatoes are dangerous. Sure, they CAN be poisonous to some, but not all.

    You really have to use reason here. If it's not poisonous to everyone, and there are allot of people who have positive reactions from exposure, then by talking so much about the negative reactions even to people who have the positive reactions you make it very difficult for anything serious to be done.

    Groups of people all over the world have used this plant for everything from warts, to moles, to sterility. And while some serious scientific investigations do claim that the plant can cause the opposite of what the folk remedies claim, it doesn't explain the positive.

    If it's so dangerous, why is this the only substance I have ever encountered that can remove a wart with no pain at all, improve my eye sight, and turn a mole into a freckle?

    And now because everyone is so afraid of the plant, I can't find any information at all on grafting. In fact, Gardening Forums like this appear to be the WORST place to learn anything at all about it because everyone is just repeating rumors of gloom. And other websites which I have read, warning of dangers, refuse to print that anyone has any positive experience, only showing comments from people who had bad experiences. It's like people are so worried about how bad the plant can be to some, they will actually withhold information about the true nature of the plant.

    It's really frustrating. I even waited weeks for a decent response. Isn't there anyone out there who has some first hand knowledge and who isn't either too afraid to touch it, or is allergic?
     
  9. Elliander

    Elliander Member

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    Also, to be clear, the Sap in Euphorbia Tirucalli is technically classified as a "Minor Irritant" but even those who classify the irritant as a Poison still call the reaction Minor. All of those who experienced extreme reactions to it are experiencing what is commonly known as Anaphylactic Shock.
     
  10. grondinca1

    grondinca1 Member

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    Dear Euphorbia enthusiast, interesting comments re. pencil cactus. I have handled this species many times as a Landacape Designer in Fort Lauderdale for over a decade. They become HUGE over here, attaining 12' with a thick trunk over 6" in diam. It is indeed VERY irritant and toxic. From personal experience trimming and cleaning them, the latex, like many other plants exuding similar "milk" such a the common Benjamin Ficus Tree, seems to be PHOTOREACTIVE, meaning that once the sap on the skin is exposed to SUN and HEAT, is when severe BURNS and IRRITATION occur. ALL euphorbias are very toxic and especially dangerous to EYES. As for grafting stock, I would chose a thicker type such as E. Canariensis or such commonly found vertical habit euphorbia found at the nursery. Happy (cautious!) growing! --Serge in FLorida
     
  11. Lostindelirium

    Lostindelirium Member

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    I have never gotten an allergic reaction to this plant at all and earlier today had just touched the milky sap from a recently pruned specimen. I had no reaction whatsoever, ever to the milky sap of this plant.

    I agree that it would be very interesting to have a study done on how many people actually have an extreme allergic reaction, or even one at all.

    A study on who is affected is it based on race, etc would be quite interesting.
    Along with all the positive affects that can go along with the sap from this plant.

    What i have read however is that constant (folkloric) use of the sap can promote the growth of tumors and trigger certain cancers. So be careful with constant use of the sap for pro-health reasons, as in the long term it may be possible that it can promote tumor or cancer growth.
    (not sure of the details on these studies or if there was anything else environmentally that could be taken into affect that would cause cancer endemics in the areas of study that was not taken into account).

    Just wanted to speak up that this plant has never hurt me or affected me in a bad way =)
     
  12. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor

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    And I'll weigh in as one who has been seriously burned by adult E. tirucalli sap. After 3 years, the scars on my arms are only just disappearing. I used to keep the plants as a border fence along with Xanthoxylem to deter intruders for that very reason.

    I think that there is likely a great difference between landscape specimens in temperate zones and those in the tropics. Personally, I'll never handle this plant again without sturdy rubber gloves.
     
  13. Lostindelirium

    Lostindelirium Member

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    The difference between those in the tropics and those in temperate zones would be an interesting thing to study as well.

    It surprises me that i can actually handle the plant with no reaction as i am allergic to other things such as sawdust, fiberglass, certain danders that give me a reaction to the skin. Being that i am so allergic to things (also add poison ivy to the allergy list) it really is surprising, yet i have had no reaction from the milky sap.

    We are in sunny Florida here were we have our plants..
    I am wondering if the toxicity of the sap would also depend on how large the plant has grown in size...?
     
  14. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor

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    Also quite possible. Mine were in the neighbourhood of 10 feet tall with sturdy 8-10" diameter trunks.
     

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