Euphorbia cooperi

N.E.Br. ex A.Berger

amily : Euphorbiaceae
Common names : bushveld candelabra euphorbia (Eng.); norsdoring (Afr.)
African Tree List no. : 346

Fruiting branches: Image Geoff Nichols
©Geoff Nichols

Euphorbia cooperi is a succulent tree up to 7 m tall, with conspicuous candelabra-like branches. This plant has milky latex highly poisonous to humans and animals.

Flowers: Image Geoff NicholsThis spiny, succulent tree has a naked, grey trunk, up to 3 m high. Round holes on the trunk indicate where old branches have fallen off. Branches (succulent leaves) are conspicuously 4- to 6-winged and resemble a chunky string of beads. The triangular segments are 50-150 x 120 mm. The spines form a spiky margin along each ridge on the branches. Spines are found in pairs and are usually 5 to 7 mm long.

The yellowish green, bisexual flowers, which are clustered along ridges between the spines, are found in groups of 3 cymes (flower formed at the tip and subsequent ones formed below) situated towards the tips of the branches. Flowering time is from September to October.

The fruit is a 3-lobed capsule, 15 x 8 mm long and green in colour. Red markings are also visible on the fruit which appear in September to October onwards and overlap with the flowering time.

It is mostly found in wooded grassland and rocky places from KwaZulu-Natal, through Swaziland and up to Messina in Limpopo.

Euphorbia cooperi:Copyright Geoff Nichols
© Geoff Nichols

Uses and cultural aspects
The latex is used for fish poisoning. The fish poison is prepared by soaking a bundle of grass in the latex, tying it to a stone and throwing it into the water. Paralysed fish rise to the surface within a short period of time. Euphorbia cooperi is not eaten by game or stock because of its irritant milky latex. A slight smear on the skin or face produces blisters and inhalation of the air close to a bleeding plant can produce a burning sensation in the throat. Latex irritates the eye and may cause blindness.

Growing E. cooperi

In cultivationEuphorbia cooperi can create a statement in any garden due to its structural qualities and it can be used as an accent plant to attract attention. It is easily propagated from seeds or cuttings, which must be kept dry to prevent rotting, but great care must be taken when collecting cuttings. Rather use gloves when handling these plants to prevent the poisonous sap coming into contact with one's skin or eyes. It does not require much water at all and naturally occurs in the mixed bushveld biome. It prefers sandy, loamy to clay soils and will grow in grassland as well as on granite koppies or ridges that occur in these regions. A sunny spot on the warm northern side of the garden would be ideal for these water-wise plants.

References and further reading

  • Acocks, J.P.H. 1988. Veld Types of South Africa, edn 3. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 57. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Malan, S. 1998. Field guide to the wild flowers of the Highveld. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Watt, M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa, edn 2. Livingstone, London.


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