The African milk tree derives its name from the white sap that comes out when the plant is cut. Its stem has three sides and reaches an average of 36 to 60 inches in height, as well as 18 to 36 inches in width.
This succulent plant produces tear drop-like leaves that grow from the ridges of each side, making them unique.
Read through our educative care guide to learn more about this plant, whose foliage usually has a burgundy red color but gets green under lower light conditions.
- What Is the African Milk Tree?
- African Milk Tree Care
- Common Problems
What Is the African Milk Tree?
The African milk tree is a succulent, native to West Africa and is commonly known as the Euphorbia trigona due to its triangular-shaped stems. It grows some thorns that are about a centimeter apart along the sides. The leaves of this plant grow after every thorn, making a stunning pattern.
African Milk Tree Care
The Euphorbia trigona care does not need much of your time or attention when growing because this plant is quite resilient to harsh conditions. It is also pest resistant but, you have to meet certain requirements to grow it with success.
– Water Requirements
The African milk tree plants are succulents, although many growers confuse them for cactus. Unlike cacti, these plants do not tolerate prolonged stay on completely dry soil. Although the African milk trees’ succulent form allows them to store water that takes them through for some time, remember, do not expose them to dry soil for a long time.
However, these succulents do not do well when overwatered so, water the soil once every two weeks or when the top few inches of the soil have dried out. Bear in mind that water loss in the soil and plants differs with climates. Higher temperatures lead to increased water loss so be prepared to regularly water your African milk tree during spring and summer.
However, note that lower temperatures in winter reduce water loss, meaning that the soil will be wet for a long time so reduce watering. Hence, the watering process goes hand-in-hand with the drainage qualities of the soil and the type of pot used.
When you water your plant, excess water needs to be drained off with the enhancement of a well-draining soil mix and out of the pot through the holes. If the plant sits in soggy soil for long, root rot is a possible result.
We strongly advise that you water this succulent once a month during winter as the plant enters dormancy and increase water application during the growing season to aid development. Also, avoid splashing water on the leaves when watering as this might cause fungal infections on the foliage.
– Light Requirements
African milk trees are native to deserts, making them bright sunlight lovers. We recommend that you position them close to the south-facing window which allows them to get as much light as possible.
The plants perform well when provided with daily access to bright and indirect sunlight for at least six hours. For best results, ensure that there is a balance between light and watering to avoid giving your plants too much or less water.
Summer is associated with higher temperatures so providing shade, especially during the afternoon, is vital to prevent scorching the leaves. Placing these beautiful succulents in a partially shaded area allows them to access adequate bright light while preventing hot and direct sun at the same time.
The Euphorbia trigona ‘rubra’ species’ tips turn purple-reddish when exposure to direct sunlight is intense which gives your places a beautiful touch. However, be very careful not to cause damage to your succulents by continuously exposing them to such extreme conditions.
Continuous exposure to bright and direct sunlight causes the leaves of the African milk tree to develop some brown patches. When the light is too low, new growth development is reduced or does not happen at all.
The plant may start bending toward the nearest source of light rather than growing upwards. If you decide to move your plant from an indoor to an outdoor environment, do this gradually to avoid shocking its tender leaves.
– Soil Requirements
The African milk tree plant thrives in a well-draining soil mix that has a higher concentration of coarse sand. Don’t worry, our recommendation is to buy ready-to-use succulent and cacti-specified mixes.
You can also use homemade mixes that are made by combining two parts sand, fine gravel, or perlite; two parts potting mix; and one part peat moss. You can buy these components from your nearest garden centers.
Moisture retention is aided by peat moss while sand helps to drain excess water away from the plant’s roots. A potting soil that holds too much water exposes the roots of the African milk tree to rotting which poses the risk of discoloration of the plant and possibly death. This succulent does well in soils with a pH of 6.1 to 7.8 and any fluctuations lead to foliage problems that deter the appearance of your plant.
Keep in mind that loosening the soil regularly with a fork or any other suitable tool improves air circulation and increases water infiltration, thereby keeping the roots healthy.
In addition to the water drainage qualities of the soil, provide a pot that has adequate holes to let any excess water out. We recommend the use of terracotta pots because they have the qualities to draw moisture away from the plant and are not expensive.
– Temperature Requirements
When growing the African milk tree as a houseplant, try to replicate the desert conditions to get the best out of this succulent. Bear in mind that the African milk tree can survive high temperatures, but more excellent conditions will destroy its foliage.
However, when the temperatures go below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, quickly move the plant to a much warmer place or increase the warmth artificially using heaters.
Freezing or frosty conditions freeze the plant’s foliage, a scenario that leads to cell damage if the situation is not promptly dealt with. During winter, temperatures are low, so avoid growing your plants outdoors. Given that the temperature is relatively above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, you can grow the African milk tree outdoors without any problems.
Higher temperatures imply that watering frequency has to be increased as the soil loses water quickly. Winter has lower temperatures, so moisture loss is a common notion. Therefore, excessive watering in winter keeps the soggy soil leading to root and stem rot.
– Humidity Requirements
The African milk plant thrives in dry conditions so when grown under high humidity, its development will be stunted. Usually, indoor conditions have high humidity so for you to be able to grow the African milk tree successfully, consider using a dehumidifier.
This desert plant is vulnerable to pest and disease attacks when grown in humid environments. If your places allow you to replicate desert conditions easily, the chances of having a healthy and vibrant succulent are high.
When you notice a fluctuation in humidity, try saving your plants by cutting back the water supply. A highly humid environment causes water loss to fall. Hence, it is essential to note that, a balance between humidity and watering should be maintained to avoid problems that are associated with excess moisture, like bacteria and pest manifestation.
Ensure adequate air circulation and ventilation around the plant. Also, do not overcrowd your spaces with plants so that you allow for moisture loss. When plants transpire, the air around them gets saturated with humidity.
– Fertilizing Requirements
Spring and summer are the effective growing seasons for the African milk tree, which is why fertilizing during this period is a wise idea. Fertilizing enhances the development of plants; nonetheless, when overdone, your African milk tree may be destroyed.
Apply a diluted liquid fertilizer to your plant once a month. Consider applying the first feed during early spring, whereas the last fertilizer is best administered just before autumn.
Keep in mind that this plant is a heavy feeder but use the recommended succulent fertilizer at half strength. The African milk tree is very susceptible to over-fertilizing, which often burns its foliage.
We also recommend the use of organic worm fertilizer as it has minimal strength that is unlikely to be harmful to this succulent. Avoid applying fertilizer to your beautiful plants during winter because the Euphorbia trigona will be in a dormant state.
Also, after repotting, do not fertilize during the first few weeks to avoid shocking the tender plants. Start feeding the young African milk tree when it is fully established. To produce a stunning plant, make sure that all other care requirements are being met before considering additional feeding on it.
– Pruning Requirements
Be sure to use sterilized pruning shears or a knife to get rid of unwanted items as this helps to curb bacterial transmission to the African milk tree. Pruning is vital in stopping the spread of diseases and pests within a plant or to other plants.
Seriously infected or bad stems should be cut off and disposed of well to stop the pathogens from regrouping and causing future problems. Make some neat incisions on your plant to keep up its beautiful appearance.
When undertaking the pruning process, consider keeping the distribution of weight balanced. The African milk tree has shallow roots and may succumb to improper distribution of weight on the plant.
Additionally, it is important to note that this succulent tree would grow taller, which makes pruning essential to help the small and surface roots to be able to hold its large foliage upright. When pruning, consider wearing protective gloves to protect yourself from the thorns, as well as the milky substance that comes out from cuts.
It may be worrisome for you to lose some beautiful parts of your African milk tree to pruning, but don’t worry because, after the process of pruning, you can choose some fresh and healthy cuttings that you can save for propagation. This way, the cuttings will not go to waste but give you additional independent succulent plants to beautify your places.
The easiest method for propagating the African milk tree is through cuttings, although you can also use the seeds. However, it is essential to protect yourself by wearing thick and strong gloves to prevent direct contact with the milky sap and thorns from the plant. We recommend propagating your succulent plant during the growing season when plant development is high so that you increase the chances of success.
– Cuttings Method
Use alcohol to sterilize your knife, hand pruners, or scissors and cut off a healthy stem from its base. Wash the branch or the stem with some cold and running water until the milky sap stops oozing out.
In this step, you must allow the cut to callus by placing it on a paper towel and exposing it to dry conditions with good airflow, avoiding direct sunlight at the same time. If you plant the cutting without callusing, it only takes about three weeks to form roots, nonetheless, there is a high risk of rotting.
Once the cutting calluses, plant it in a four-inch pot with a potting medium and coarse sand or gravel. Ensure that the lower inch of the cutting is below the soil and add a thin layer of sand on top to hold the cutting upright. Expose the plant to temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and bright indirect sunlight. Water the soil once it completely dries out.
The development of roots takes an average of two months. Although a callused cutting takes longer to root, it has higher chances of passing the propagation process compared to a non-callused one. We recommend you to repot the plant into a six-inch pot when new growth starts appearing.
– Seed Propagation
New African milk tree plants can be grown from seeds although the cuttings method is more preferred. Apart from being rare, the seeds of the African milk tree germinate at a prolonged rate. Nonetheless, you must make sure that the seeds are well-dried up to avoid rotting.
Like any other succulent, the African milk tree encounters several obstacles that may take away its gorgeousness. However, many problems emanate from overwatering, which is considered to be the main culprit. Most of the African milk tree problems can be rectified when detected early.
– Common Pests
The African milk tree is quite challenging, making it not so susceptible to diseases or pests. However, be on the lookout for mealybugs and spider mites, although they may not cause any fatal damage to the plant. Mealybugs produce some cotton-like substances on the foliage that disrupts the beautiful appearance of the African milk tree succulent.
Take clean water and mix it with a few drops of dishwashing detergent and wipe off the mealybugs with a cloth that has been previously soaked in this solution. We also recommend wiping off the bugs using rubbing alcohol and a paper towel.
What you have to do is gently spray the African milk tree with pressurized water and also wash off these notorious bugs. Make sure that the water is not strong enough to damage the foliage of your gorgeous desert plant.
Furthermore, we recommend using Neem oil to deal with mealybugs and spider mites. Make sure that the plant is not exposed to bright light after applying neem oil because this combination burns the foliage.
If a pest infestation persists despite using pesticides on the African milk tree twice or thrice a week, it is better to destroy the entire plant and dispose of it properly. The latter is done to prevent the pests from spreading to uninfected plants within your proximity.
– Common Diseases
You should prevent the manifestation of diseases by being watchful on watering as well as maintaining all other care needs at balance.
The cork disease emanates from overwatering. You will notice the stems of the African milk tree developing cork-like patches. The best way to stop the cork disease earlier is by cutting off the infected parts and disposing of them. However, you can stop watering the plant and place it on a spot with bright indirect sunlight to assist it in getting back to its feet. Creating an environment with sufficient air circulation around your plant helps it recover, too.
Root rot also results from soggy soil. The microorganisms that cause root rot thrive in damp soil. When the roots are rotten, water and nutrient uptake drastically fall, resulting in a decline in plant development and growth rate. You will notice the succulent turning yellow or brown when its roots are rotten.
We advise you to regularly check the root system of the African milk tree and if you notice any terrible roots, trim them off to help the plant recover.
If the roots are severely damaged, we recommend that you dispose of the plant because recovery is unlikely. To prevent root rot, water the soil once the top inch is completely dried out and make sure that the soil supports drainage of excess moisture.
In addition to a well-draining soil mix, the pot must have adequate holes to let excess water out. During winter, temperatures are low reducing water loss, so cut back on watering to avoid root infections.
Stem rot is quite similar to root rot in the sense that both are mainly caused by excessive watering. Once you notice the stems of your plants rotting, it is already too late to save them. The plants will die in a few days so be vigilant on the watering aspect. Do not put the whole plant to waste as you can cut off some health cuttings for propagation.
When you notice your African milk tree going through stunted growth and wilting, be on the lookout for stem rot. An improper nutrient balance, mechanical injury, and water-holding soils also put your African milk tree plant to stem rot risk.
Is the White Sap From the African Milk Tree Toxic?
The latex-like or milky liquid that oozes from the Euphorbia trigona cuts is toxic. The white sap is irritating and can cause a burning sensation when it comes in contact with your skin. When handling the African milk tree, wear thick protective gloves and eyeglasses to avoid contact with the milky sap.
Growing this plant in homes or public places needs you to be very cautious because when ingested by kids and pets, it can be harmful. Consider placing it on a spot out of reach of children and pets. However, the area should allow the plant to be visible so that its beautiful impact on your places can be felt.
Does African Milk Tree Flower?
When grown indoors, the African milk tree rarely flowers. Taking into account that the Euphorbia trigona plant is a desert plant, outdoor conditions enhance flower production. However, when its care requirements are being met, it produces white or yellow blooms during spring and summer. Try to replicate desert conditions to enjoy the beauty that comes with the blooms.
Is African Milk Tree Really a “Tree”?
When grown indoors, this plant does not get as large as it can be. When grown outdoors it takes a shape of a candelabra and reaches an average of nine feet in height. These features make this plant to be referred to as a tree.
We covered so much about this beautiful plant today however here are some must-know summary points concerning caring for your plant so you can keep in mind:
- The African milk tree is quite resilient plant, hence you must try to replicate desert conditions to enhance its development and upkeep.
- The Euphorbia trigona is a succulent that is susceptible to overwatering so, be careful on this aspect to avoid killing your plants.
- We recommend the use of the stem cuttings method when you want to propagate the African milk tree.
- This gorgeous plant is quite pest-resistant; nonetheless, you must be on the lookout for mealybugs and spider mites. Early detection as well as taking prompt corrective measures helps the Euphorbia trigona to recover.
During spring or summer, transition the plant to a spot with bright and indirect light to help the African milk tree produce healthy blooms to enlighten your places. Grow African milk trees and bring the desert closer to you!
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