Euphorbia tirucalli – a childhood memory that turns out to have been a bit of a monster.

euphorbia tirucalli (own)3
There are some times in life when coincidences can pile up and make you wonder. The other day I was part of a secret Santa on a gardening page and the only plant my gift receiver was hoping to receive was one called Euphorbia tirucalli. I didn’t know what it was but when I Googled the image it turned out to be something I had driven past every weekend for nine years of my life. It is also called the pencil plant. I knew it through out my childhood as kraalmelkbos or milky fence bush. Sadly I was not able to send it to her as the local Bunnings nursery has a very limited sense of adventure when it comes to plants. But at least I now knew what the giant candelabras of branches that lined every highway in East Africa in the seventies were.

Tirucalli is not a nice plant to have. It has a milky sap that causes blindness, possibly cancer, suppresses immune systems and can cause internal bleeding. In Africa it is traditionally used to poison fish and also to cure impotence. Blindness seems like an extreme side effect of an impotence cure but I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. As an Indian I find it interesting that Tiru is derived from the Tamil Thiru or good and calli from a Malabar coast word for tree. I wonder what the ancients were using this plant for and whether my secret Santa really knows what the plant is like.

Now imagine my surprise then to see the very same plant for the first time in my 29 years in Australia in a smaller nursery two days later. There was only one little pot left. When I took it to the checkout, the woman told me I could have it for free as the soil looked like it had mostly fallen out. I just had to tell her the story of driving past these trees in Africa. She said it was some kind of sign that the plant had been meant for me.

I think I like the idea of Santa being a woman in a Stratco uniform better than that of a sign. I guess I was on the nice list this year after all! Although, there is still that matter of the blinding sap.

Photo: http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com.au/2009/01/cigarette-smoking-man-euphorbia.html
(mine really is very small and rather sad looking)

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