A tree spurge Posted on December 30, 2011

Euphorbia arborescens on La Gomera

The name of my daughter’s hillside, the slope at hang-glider pitch overlooking the bay of Beaulieu, is La Petite Afrique. From her house, seven hundred feet above sea level, the mountains of Corsica can appear on the horizon, ninety miles to the south, usually at dawn. There are, remarkably, no springs along this cliff-line, where the Alps stop dead at the coast. Where does the snow-melt go? Much of it out to sea down the flood-drain of the River Var, but presumably also in submarine sweet water springs far below the Mediterranean.

So La Petite Afrique is dry, facing south-east and exposed to the daylong onslaught of the sun. The rubble at the foot of its crowning limestone cliffs is none the less fertile: a forest, indeed, of wild olives and tall pale-green Aleppo pines, with carob and
occasional ash trees, rosemary and thyme, and a strange tree euphorbia that seems to grow nowhere else along the coast.

Euphorbia dendroides is a beauty: a highly desirable dome of brilliant spurge green in spring, flowers of that intense yellow-green covering grey-blue leaves. Old plants are low-branching trees measuring five or six feet high and wide from a single short stem. Seedlings catch your eye as you scramble up the rocks; just four or five tiny blue leaves on a stick. What you can’t do is move them. Transplanting never seems to work, and I have had no luck with seeds. In any case conditions in Kitty’s irrigated garden would be far too humid.
Or would they? The other place I have seen a colony of tree spurge is out in the sea mists of La Gomera in the Canaries, on a similar rocky hillside but swathed in Atlantic fog.

Is there a good book about Euphorbia? From soft little scramblers of wet meadows to giant Mexican cacti they are an adventurous race. We all grow Euphorbia wulfenii; would be lost without it, in fact. Now my ambition is to grow its arborescent cousin.

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