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African Milk Cactus

Beverly Erlebacher bae at cs.toronto.edu
Wed Jun 25 12:33:57 EST 1997

In article <EC9Es4.LnJ.A.ebony at ebony.trentu.ca>,
Kellie_Bonnici <kbonnici at ivory.trentu.ca> wrote:
>In article <5ok68b$2fa$1 at ralph.vnet.net>, schneck at vnet.net (schneck) writes:
>>This may not be the NG I need, but I need help with a 20 year old African
>>Milk Cactus.  I got her when she was six inches tall...and she is now 4
>>1/2 feet tall and feels like she weighs over 70 pounds.  I really have no
>>good place in my house for her...she just barely survives the winters
>>before I move her outside to a east facing patio, shielded from the North
>>by an L of our home.  
>I'd suggest putting the cactus in the absolute brightest most light 
>intense area you can find.

No, no, no!  It will only get bigger and more unwieldy!

I think the plant you have is Euphorbia lactea or a related species.
It is not a cactus at all, but a completely unrelated plant resembling
one.  It is a classic example of convergent evolution.

>>Is it possible to keep this beast outside all winter...I live on the
>>border of NC/SC, in the Piedmont (Charlotte area).  
>I don't think so!

I doubt this plant can survive much frost, but you could research its
native habitat (deserts of southern Africa I believe) to see how cold 
it gets there.  How cold does it get where you are?  Does the ground
freeze?  Do you think wrapping it in burlap might do it?

>If it is, can she be
>>transplanted to our clay soil or should she be kept in her pot.  

If you are going to put it outside, I'd recommend a raised bed or planter
with a lot of rocks or pebbles and a sandy soil to ensure good drainage,
especially in cold weather.

>And how
>>can I correct her drunken list.  She has a pronounced curve in her main
>>trunk.  Unless I brace her against a wall, she tips over.  As it is, she
>>has listed so long that she has exposed the roots on one side.

If you replant it, you can probably plant it deeper and prop it with rocks.
The poor plant is probably just top heavy.  They can get really big in even
a small pot.  You could also set the pot in something more attractive but
similar in size to a bushel basket and fill in the space with rocks, up over
the top of the pot.  Or repot in a really heavy clay pot.  If you use a
nice big pot, the plant will get even bigger and you won't be able to
move it at all.

I used to have one of these plants, which I grew from a 6" cutting.  After
I moved to a house, I made the mistake of summering the plant outdoors.  This
caused it to grow at least a foot a year.  It wintered in front of the kitchen
window, kept dry and not growing.  Within a few years it was a hazard to
people using the kitchen stove.  It got too big to lug outside, and not at
all to my surprise I couldn't get anyone to help me.  I kept it inside, but
every summer it would grow.  When it hit the 9' ceiling, I lopped about
18" from the top and rooted the cutting.  This meant that the following
year I had about 6 branches pushing on the ceiling.  

When I moved to the current house, nobody, including me, could face moving
the plant.  I thought about donating it to a public greenhouse, but compared
to a specimen that had spent its life in a greenhouse, it had ummm perhaps
too much character and individuality.  Also, there was the problem of getting
it out of the kitchen, out of the house and into some form of transportation.
I have to confess that I left the plant behind, alas!

Anyhow, after this sad tale, all I can suggest is that you make some cuttings,
root them well, and experiment with wintering either the cuttings or the
original outdoors.  Let me warn you that when you cut this plant it will
*spurt* a milky sap which will keep running until you are sure it will
bleed to death.  It won't.  Let the cuttings lie around for a few days
so the wound seals up and calluses before you put it in a rooting medium.

Best of luck.  Remember that cuttings are still the same plant, same
sentimental value, etc., so you can keep going for another 20, 40 or
100 years!

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