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Euphorbia

Euphorbia

Euphorbia

Any plant that offers winter greenery and early flowering is worthy of consideration, and spurge gives both.

There are lots of kinds of euphorbia, which is the botanical name, some quite commonly grown in gardens. Many of them are native to the Mediterranean region and they bring a touch of the Med to a garden, especially in winter and early spring.

The family of spurges has tufts of long narrow dark-green leaves on the stems, some of which are taller than others, some just knee-high, some up to the waist and a notable one making a large shrub to more than three metres tall and wide. The flowers of euphorbia are usually greenish or yellow, forming a cup-shape of greenish bracts. These are carried in rounded clusters, large or small depending on the kind.

The Corsican spurge is one of the earliest kinds to start making its flowers. It forms a mound of dark-green leaves and, at the tips of the shoots, a cluster of nodding flower buds forms. These are pale green when ripe. Although these do not sound all that exciting, they are quite striking when fully developed and, with a few spring bulbs nearby, create a pleasing and subtly beautiful combination.

The species most usually grown is Mediterranean spurge and this is the best one for providing a good show of greenery in the form of waist-high rounded clump of stems with tall rosettes of dark-green leaves. There are some variegated forms of this plant, but they are not attractive, seeming more like they have a touch of virus disease. The green form is best, ideally planted in a few places so that the clumps play off each other.

The Mediterranean spurge is not a true shrub but it has a hard woody base. A bigger form is the honey spurge, from Madeira, its brown flowers scented of honey, and it has tufts of green leaves on strong woody branches. It is perfect for a coastal garden, but is subject to damage by hard frost, and it is too big for a small garden.

Another popular kind is commonly known as Mrs Robb's bonnet, or wood spurge, as it can tolerate some light shade, although it will fade out if the shade is too heavy. This one is knee-high with tufts of really dark leaves, evergreen like the others, and upright heads of yellow-green flowers. They all like well-drained soil. Note that all kinds of spurge are rabbit- and animal-proof because of their white latex sap, which is bitter and poisonous. This latex can also cause skin reactions.

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Sunday Independent