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Euphorbia: Drought-Resistant Plants for Hudson Valley Gardens


With last summer’s prolonged drought followed by a particularly harsh winter, I lost quite a few of the marginal plants in my garden. Rather than replace what died, I’m filling gaps with tough, drought-resistant varieties that have interesting foliage for months on end rather than showy flowers for a couple of weeks. My latest crush: euphorbia, commonly known as spurge. Yes, I’m on a spurge splurge. There are hundreds of species (2,008, says Wikipedia) ranging from the ferny-looking “weed” with little chartreuse flowers you see growing along the roadside, to tree types. Many are succulents, some of which look like cacti. Pointsettias are members of the family, too.


My cultivated favorites (so far) are Euphorbia dulcis Chameleon, which has purple-green leaves in whorls, and the colorful E. polychroma Bonfire, whose slender leaves start out green and move through orange and red as they gradually turn maroon. Both grow in a mound around a foot to 18 inches high, with vivid chartreuse-yellow flowers — technically bracts — in spring.

ascot rainbowAscot Rainbow

I’m also taking a chance on Ascot Rainbow, which has lovely, variegated leaves tinged with pink. I snagged the only one left on sale at Adam’s, although there seems to be some debate about whether it can survive in Zone 5. Generally, euphorbias like well-drained, sunny conditions and don’t tolerate wet roots. Fingers crossed that we don’t have a soggy summer as mine get established. My Ascot is looking a little limp at present.

One downside is that all euphorbias contain a poisonous, milky sap that can irritate the skin, if you’re sensitive. You need to be careful when pruning or deadheading. The positive aspect is that somehow the deer know they’re poisonous, and don’t eat them.

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