Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Promising Industry


Euphorbia! Euphorbia! Not only is this simple house plant becoming a household name but collecting them has also turned into a frenzied mania among plant enthusiasts and hobbyists. A garden is never complete without it. Even housewives are starting to collect every color that they can get their hands on. And since they are easy to propagate and to manage, growing this plant is becoming more of a pleasant activity among any other tedious and routinary gardening activity. “It is the actual collecting of all the colors and seeing them beautifully aligned and displayed in one place that makes this activity an addicting pleasure,” quipped Lilia Ramos, an avid Euphorbia aficionado. Another collector, Anita dela Cruz, revealed that her enthusiasm started when a friend gave her this plant as a gift. Eventually, curiosity rose and since then, he did not stop collecting. Euphorbia has become by-word of mouth among plant growers that finding information and cultivars is easier than expected. The plant, Euphorbia milii, belongs to the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) consisting of around 2,160 species. The Euphorbiaceae are either annual or perennial herbs, woody shrubs, or trees with acerbic, poisonous milky sap. Their roots are fine or thick and fleshy or tuberous. Most species are more or less succulent, thorny, or unarmed. The leaves, which are either arranged in opposite, alternate, or in whorls are mostly small and short-lived. Euphorbia milii, commonly known as “Crown of Thorns”, “Christ Plant”, or simply euphorbia, is one of the best selling ornamental plants in the Philippines today owing to a great numbers of collectors and enthusiasts. They are commonly called by such names because of a legend that it was from the stems of this plant that Christ's thorns were made during his crucifixion. The stems of Euphorbia milii are bendable enough to be intertwined into a circle. Also, there exists substantial evidence that this plant, which is reportedly native to Madagascar, had been brought to the Middle East before the time of Christ. This was also supported by earlier studies. The Crown of Thorn is a woody, spiny, climbing succulent shrub with shoots reaching a height of up to six feet. Leaves are found primarily on young growth, and may defoliate completely if put under moisture or temperature stress. But subsequent growth will bear new leaves. The plant blooms nearly all year round with flowers that are small and almost inconspicuous. The bright colored modified leaves (bracts) found just beneath the flowers remain to be the main attractions for collectors. The latex produced by this plant could cause severe dermatitis on susceptible individuals, much like the effect of a poison ivy. It is also generally poisonous if ingested in large amounts. The latex serves as protection for these plants from herbivores (plant-consuming organisms). Despite its poisonous properties, the latex had also been used for medicinal purposes. Euphorbia milli is easy to grow either in cool or bright conditions and propagated through tip cuttings. It is drought-tolerant and a versatile houseplant. It is suited for indoor or outdoor display, potted for the patio, or as part of every garden collection. Euphorbias are considered lucky plants by Thais that they are the leader in the development of new cultivars. Over the past 30 years or so, more than 2000 known cultivars of Euphorbias have already been developed in Thailand with most of the activities taking place since 1991. They have popularized cultivars such as Jungle Bells, Summer Song, and Mini Spring Song. by Rita T. dela Cruz.

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