Euphorbia horrida (African Milk Barrel)

Euphorbia horrida (African Milk Barrel)

Scientific Name

Euphorbia horrida Boiss.

Common Names

African Milk Barrel


Euphorbia horrida var. horrida

Scientific Classification

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Subfamily: Euphorbioideae
Tribe: Euphorbieae
Subtribe: Euphorbiinae
Genus: Euphorbia


Euphorbia horrida is a succulent that offsets from the base to form a cluster of erect stems that vary in color from blue-grey to grey-green. The stems are cylindrical, spiny, heavily-ridged, up to 4.9 feet (1.5 m) tall and up to 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. Spines are dried remnants of its flower stalks. They are very rigid and up to 1.6 inches (4 cm) long. Cyathia are solitary and produced in summer at the apex of the stems.


USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11b: from 25 °F (−3.9 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Euphorbias are very easy to care for. These plants require a little pampering to become established, but once they are, they are self-sufficient. In fact, more die from too much care and watering than from neglect. Euphorbias need well-draining soil and lots of sunlight. They are not particular about soil pH, but they cannot tolerate wet soil. Unlike most succulents, Euphorbia does not handle long periods of drought well. It may need weekly watering during the summer. Water whenever the soil is dry several inches below the surface. Water deeply, but don't let them sit in wet soil, which can cause root rot. Add some organic matter or fertilizer to the planting hole. If you are growing them in containers or your soil is poor, feed with a half-strength fertilizer monthly.

These succulents can be grown from seed, but they can be difficult to germinate (or even find). They are usually propagated by cuttings. This can be tricky because of the exuding sap. Rooting hormone is recommended with Euphorbias. They tend to grow problem-free, but there are a few pests and diseases to be alert for. See more at How to Grow and Care for Euphorbia.


Euphorbia horrida is native to South Africa.


  • Back to genus Euphorbia
  • Succulentopedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus

Photo Gallery

Subscribe now and be up to date with our latest news and updates.

Plant Library

An attractive, bold plant for a sunny border cactus-like branches are covered with long, red spines pale yellow flowers in spring adds an exotic dimension to the garden

African Milk Barrel has attractive dark green foliage. The glossy narrow leaves are highly ornamental and remain dark green throughout the winter. It produces brown capsules in early summer. The flowers are not ornamentally significant.

African Milk Barrel is an open multi-stemmed evergreen shrub with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its relatively coarse texture can be used to stand it apart from other landscape plants with finer foliage.

This is a relatively low maintenance shrub, and should not require much pruning, except when necessary, such as to remove dieback. Deer don't particularly care for this plant and will usually leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. Gardeners should be aware of the following characteristic(s) that may warrant special consideration

African Milk Barrel is recommended for the following landscape applications

  • Accent
  • Mass Planting
  • Rock/Alpine Gardens
  • General Garden Use
  • Container Planting

African Milk Barrel will grow to be about 3 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 24 inches. It has a low canopy. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 60 years or more.

This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers dry to average moisture levels with very well-drained soil, and will often die in standing water. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for a low-water garden or xeriscape application. It is not particular as to soil pH, but grows best in sandy soils. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This species is not originally from North America, and parts of it are known to be toxic to humans and animals, so care should be exercised in planting it around children and pets.

African Milk Barrel makes a fine choice for the outdoor landscape, but it is also well-suited for use in outdoor pots and containers. With its upright habit of growth, it is best suited for use as a 'thriller' in the 'spiller-thriller-filler' container combination plant it near the center of the pot, surrounded by smaller plants and those that spill over the edges. It is even sizeable enough that it can be grown alone in a suitable container. Note that when grown in a container, it may not perform exactly as indicated on the tag - this is to be expected. Also note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.

Euphorbia horrida 'Nova'

Previously known as:

'Nova' African Milk Barrel is a spiny succulent shrub with irregular basally clumping stems with distinctive coloration and waviness of the spines. This columnar plant has sharp ridges lined with thorns. It can have stripes of white and green marking its stem. They will form clusters over time. The growth habit of this species makes it resemble the unrelated barrel cacti.

'Nova' can be grown outdoors in summer and brought indoors before frost. They need bright sunlight, great drainage, and infrequent water to prevent rot. Grow in containers with many drainage holes and soil appropriate for succulents and cacti and water deeply between periods of dring out. Easy to grow.

The milky sap of euphorbia can irritate the skin so wear gloves to handle.

Form K. Andre CC BY 2.0 Plant with many offshoots K. Andre CC BY 2.0 Flowers David J. Stang CC BY-SA 4.0 Close up lienyuan lee CC BY 3.0 Form Consultaplantas CC BY-SA 4.0 Form Cliff CC BY 2.0

Watch the video: Euphorbia collection part one