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Euphorbia caput-medusae

Creepy!  The rare Euphorbia caput-medusae forms a twisting, crawling mass of snake-like branches!  This intriguing succulent from South Africa grows scaly arms that can reach 3 feet long.  The species name "caput-medusae" is Latin for "Medusa's Head", in reference to the Greek mythological monster who had snakes for hair.  This oddball plant is easy to grow - and a great conversation piece!

Euphorbia caput-medusae

Euphorbia caput-medusae is a low-growing shrub that forms a central caudex up to 8 inches across.  The caudex functions to store water and nutrients.  The serpentine branches that emerge from it have layered tubercles that look very much like snake scales!  The branches are totally leaf-less except for a tiny ring of true leaves at the tips of the branches.  Also at the tips are where the flowers emerge each winter and spring.  They appear in an intricate cluster, which is quite beautiful up close.  This species is often confused with similar-looking species, like Euphorbia flanaganii, which is smaller and has yellow blooms instead of white.

Medusa's Head Euphorbia

The Medusa's Head Euphorbia can be grown much like a typical succulent.  Despite coming from a mild climate, it has handled temperatures in the low-90s well (34 degrees Celsius).  It's possible that extremely hot conditions with warm nights might stress it.  It can probably survive a few degrees of light frost, but i recommend protecting it from freezing temperatures.

It grows well in a pot indoors or out.  You can show off its great form in a hanging planter, or let it trail along the ground.  Use a fast-draining soil mix, such as equal parts of pumice rock, coarse sand, and potting soil.  It enjoys sun, but some afternoon shade may be a good idea in hotter conditions.  It's fairly drought tolerant, but it looks best when given regular water during the summer.  It can handle frequent watering provided that it's grown in fast-draining soil.  Like with all Euphorbia species, the sap in the stems is irritating to skin and eyes, so small children and pets should be watched closely around it.

Euphorbia caput-medusae

 

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