Large Mediterranean Spurge - Euphorbia characias
by Tony Hall
This is a large showy plant, especially when in flower, growing to almost 1m tall. It is certainly not a difficult plant to spot.
It is a perennial, forming large clumps that have a woody base, from which it produces stout, erect, unbranched stems that are often a reddish-brown towards their base and showing old leaf scars as small ridges where earlier leaves have fallen. The bluish-green, long, narrow leaves can be up to 10cm long and are densely clustered along the stem. They are stalkless, alternate and mainly on the upper parts of the stems, particularly on mature plants. Darker green above than below, they are covered with fine, soft hairs on both sides.
This euphorbia produces large flower heads of 20 or more individually stalked ray florets, made up of conspicuous yellowish-green bracts that have reddish-brown glands in their centres. These have small horn-like appendages and flowering from February - July.
It grows in various habitats, from open sunny pastures to semi- shaded rocky woodlands in the mountains, but prefers calcareous soils.
This plant produces a white milky sap, called latex when damaged, which can be a skin irritant.
Tony Hall, Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, specialising in the plants of Andalucía.