Herbs & Plants

Euphorbia tithymaloides

Botanical Name: Euphorbia tithymaloides
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Malpighiales
Genus: Euphorbia
Species: E. tithymaloides

Common Names: Redbird flower, Devil’s-backbone,Redbird cactus, Jewbush, Buck-thorn, Cimora misha, Christmas candle, Fiddle flower, ipecacuahana, Jacob’s ladder, Japanese poinsettia, Jew’s slipper, milk-hedge, myrtle-leaved spurge, Padus-leaved clipper plant, red slipper spurge, slipper flower, slipper plant, slipper spurge, timora misha, and zig-zag plant. In other parts of the world, it is known as Gin-ryu (Japan); Pokok lipan and Penawar lipan (Indonesia); airi, baire, and agia “rang chita” (Bengal),(India); Aperejo (Yoruba); Sapatinho do diabo (Brazil); Itamo real (Cuba and Puerto Rico); Pantoufle (France); and Zapatilla del diablo (Mexico)

Euphorbia tithymaloides is native to tropical and subtropical North America and Central America. It prefers soil that is sandy, well-drained, and nutrient-rich, particularly with higher concentrations of boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. It is relatively intolerant of high soil salinity levels, but exhibits saline tolerance if well fertilized. The plant tends to be taller and have more biomass if it is well-watered. The plant requires a sunny area to grow in.

Euphorbia tithymaloides is a succulent, perennial shrub that can grow to 1.8 to 2.4 metres (6 to 8 ft) in height and generally is about 45 to 60 cm (18 to 24 in) in width. The leaf is a simple angiosperm leaf, arranged oppositely on the stem. Each leaf is sessile (attaching directly to the plant), and about 35 to 75 mm (1.4 to 3 in) in length. The leaves are glabrous (smooth) and acuminate in shape, with entire (smooth) edges. The veins in the leaves are pinnate.

The plant terminates in a dichotomous cyme, with a peduncle supporting each flower. The floral leaves are bifid (split in two parts) and ovate, while the involucral bracts are bright red, irregularly acuminate in shape (e.g., like a slipper), and about 1.1 to 1.3 mm (0.043 to 0.051 in) in length with a long, thin tube. The flower is void of scent. The male pedicel is hairy, while the female is glabrous. The seed pod is about 7.5 mm (0.30 in) long and 9 mm (0.35 in) wide, and ovoid in shape (with truncated ends).

The plant generally flowers in mid-spring.


Euphorbia tithymaloides grows best in an area receiving sun throughout the day without direct sunlight. Look for partial shade to partial sun.

The recommended growing zone is USDA hardiness zone 9 – 11. If temperatures get below 40° degrees Fahrenheit during the winter, move the plant indoors.

It’s a tropical plant needing a combination of sunlight and moisture. It can thrive indoors at room temperature if kept it in a humid area.

The devil’s backbone plant or devil’s spine plant (Euphorbia tithymaloides or Pedilanthus tithymaloides) earned its common name with the irregular, zig-zag lines of its stems, which resemble a spine. It is with these thick, succulent stems that the plant is propagated through the rooting of stem cuttings. Devil’s backbone plants grow well as houseplants or as landscaping plants in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 to 11, according to Missouri Botanical Garden.

Medicinal Uses:
The root is known to be a powerful emetic. A proteolytic enzyme known as pedilanthain can be extracted from the plant’s latex, and has been shown in experiments to be effective against intestinal worms and to reduce inflammation when ingested. In 1995, a galactose-specific lectin was purified from the plant’s latex, and indications are that it might be useful in combatting diabetes mellitus.

In folk medicine, tea has been brewed from the leaves which has been used to treat asthma, persistent coughing, laryngitis, mouth ulcers, and venereal disease. Tea brewed from the root has been used as an abortifacient. The latex has been used topically to treat calluses, ear ache, insect stings, ringworm, skin cancer, toothache, umbilical hernias, and warts. None of these uses has been scientifically verified as effective. In the West Indies, a few drops of the latex is added to milk and used as an emetic.

Other uses:
In Peru, the plant is known as “cimora misha”, “timora misha”, or “planta magica”. It is sometimes added to drinks made from mescaline-containing Trichocereus cacti (although Euphorbia tithymaloides has no known psychoactive properties). In Bengal, India, the species has been known as “rang chita”.
..Used for garden fencing.
The fast-growing nature of the plant, coupled with its ability to grow in relatively toxic soils, had led scientists in India to investigate its usefulness as a “petrocrop”, a plant which could yield biofuel compounds for internal combustion engines.

Known Hazards:
The roots, stems, and leaves of the plant are known to be toxic. These parts of the plant contain euphorbol (a complex terpene) and other diterpene esters. These are also known carcinogens. The plant’s leaves and stems also contain beta-sitosterol, cycloartenone, octacosanol, and oxime, all of which have known medicinal as well as toxic properties.

Even minor amounts (a few drops) of the juice of the Euphorbia tithymaloides root can irritate mucosal membranes. When ingested, the irritation of the mucosal membranes of the stomach and intestines will cause nausea and vomiting. Topical application causes skin irritation, inflammation, and even blisters. If introduced topically to the eye, severe pain, keratoconjunctivitis, and reduced visual acuity occur. Ingesting even a few seeds can cause violent and persistent vomiting and extreme diarrhea.

If latex or root juice gets on the skin, the victim should immediately wash with soap and warm water. If latex or juice gets in the eye, continuous rinsing with fresh water should be the first course of action. Topical steroids are indicated for skin or eye contact. Intravenous fluids are often administered to counteract the fluid loss due to vomiting and diarrhea.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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