Pencil Cactus Care as a Houseplant or Garden Favorite

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If you’re looking for a succulent houseplant to make a striking statement, look no further than the pencil cactus or Euphorbia tirucalli. This firecracker of a plant goes by many names: aveloz, firestick plant, Indian tree spurge, naked lady, pencil tree, and milkbush.

That last name refers to the cloudy, latex sap it releases if it’s damaged, which can be toxic. But with a little precaution, you can successfully plant, cultivate, and enjoy pencil cactus in your home or landscape.

Recommended Products for Pencil Cactus:

Quick Overview

The gorgeous firestick plant has a strikingly unique visual appeal
The gorgeous firestick plant has a strikingly unique visual appeal. Source: Dallas Krentzel
Scientific Name:Euphorbia tirucalli
 Common Name(s):Pencil cactus, aveloz, Indian tree spurge, naked lady, pencil tree, and milk bush
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Origin:Africa and India
Height & Spread:Grow up to 30′ high
Sun:Full, bright sun all day
Soil:Gritty and well-draining soil
FoliageBrown, orange, reddish
Water:Low
Pests & Diseases:Root rot

Belonging to the Euphorbia family, pencil cactus grows in a variety of shapes within an indoor landscape. It can grow up to 30 feet high in its natural habitat. Euphorbia tirucalli Sticks on Fire has vertical stems and loose branching. It is as thin as pencils and has reddish-golden color that turns to yellow in summer and then red in winter. Firestick plant grows up to 4 to 8 feet and 120 to 240cm wide in homes if provided with full sun and frost-free climate.

It is called a pencil cactus because of the diameter of the stem that is equivalent to a pencil. The new branches in the plant are slightly pink. You may see leaves appearing as the branches sprout. But they disappear once the branch matures.

There are commercial uses of Euphorbia tirucalli, too. Since it is a hydrocarbon plant, it can produce latex that can be modified and converted into an alternative of gasoline. It can also be used in the production of rubber. Pencil cactus can be grown in soil that is not great for growing other plants.

The plant has a wide distribution across Africa and is more prominent in the northeastern, central and southern regions. The cultivation of pencil cactus extents to the Arabian peninsula and the surrounding islands. Pencil cactus grows in dry areas and is typically used for feeding cattle, funnily enough!

It makes an amazing houseplant, with the striking stems contrasting most indoor plants quite well.

Pencil Cactus Care

Here you can see ants on the flowers of Euphorbia tirucalli
Here you can see ants on the flowers of Euphorbia tirucalli. Source: KHQ Flower Guide

Firestick plant has very simple needs. It doesn’t have very particular soil, water or fertilization requirements.

Light

Pencil tree cactus requires full sun for optimal growth. If you’re indoors, right next to a south-facing windowsill is your best bet. Mild and warm temperatures, ranging between 65°F to 70°F are best for growth.

Water

Being succulents, they can store water in their fleshy stems and leaves, meaning Sticks on Fireplant doesn’t need much water at all. Water it once every 2-3 weeks in the summer, and maybe once a month in the winter. During cold spells, you don’t need to water it at all.

Soil

If you’re growing pencil tree cacti in your home as an indoor houseplant, make sure to have a gritty and well-draining soil. The excess moisture needs to drain from the soil. Otherwise, there will be a risk of rotting out the roots, the most common houseplant issue.

Fertilizer

Stick plants can be fed with a controlled-release fertilizer at the start of the growing season. You can apply it with a weak liquid solution weekly. Using a balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer at one-quarter strength can be applied for large, mature outdoor plants.

Propagation

Euphorbia firesticks are easy to propagate, like many of their fellow succulents. You can propagate stick cactus with some cuttings taken from the new or healthy stems. These cuttings develop tiny roots. Make sure to dry them out before planting them in new cactus mix, otherwise the cut end will rot in the soil before it can set out new roots.

Pruning

Frequent pruning is not required for stick cactus. If it starts growing too big, you can trim some of the branches to cut it back to a more manageable shape. The sap is toxic though, so wear a good pair of gloves and avoid direct contact with the sap on any part of your body.

Problems

Also known as Quebradura or pencil cactus, here you can see the plant making a statement in the landscape
Also known as Quebradura or pencil cactus, here you can see the plant making a statement in the landscape. Source: Alejandro Bayer

Diseases and Growing Problems

Overwatering the sticks on fire plant can be troublesome. If you overwater the plant and the soil has poor drainage, you’re going to get root rot underneath the soil. Make sure to water the plant very infrequently, especially when the weather isn’t hot. Check the soil moisture and only water if you find it completely dry. Consider using a looser-textured mix if you find your soil holding on to too much water.

Pests

You will not come across any pest problems in pencil cactus in our experience. If you have, let us know down below and we’ll add prevention tips!

FAQs

Q. How do I know if I am overwatering pencil cactus?

A. You can check the moisture of the plant by examining the soil and studying the appearance of the cactus. If you find the soil soggy, it means either you have overwatered the plant or have a poor draining soil. The signs of overwatering are a less stable cactus plant with grayish-brown colored stems

Q. When is the best time to fertilize firestick plant?

A. The best time to fertilize the plant is the growing season during summer. Use an organic houseplant fertilizer and apply once a month for healthier growth.

Q. Is a pencil tree plant suitable for growing in pots?

A. Yes, you can grow the plant in pots. Make sure the pot has drainage holes and potting mix suitable for cacti and succulents is used.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu
Founder

Clarisa Teodoro

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