The Coral Cactus, or Euphorbia lactea Cristata, is an incredibly unique succulent plant. It pretty much looks like a large coral reef with a thick green stem and crinkled cabbage-like leaves that come in a wide variety of colors and can only reach up to 2 feet tall when grown in a container.
Coral cactus is an easy-to-grow succulent that can be grown year-round. It is not tolerant to frost, so you may want to bring it in if the temperature is expected to remain below freezing for an extended period of time. It makes a great houseplant and is easily grown in a container.
Coral cactus is comprised of two major types of succulents, which are from the Euphorbia genus family. It’s surprisingly large with thousands of plant species. The base of the plant is often a Euphorbia neriifolia, which has broad and oval leaves. Furthermore, the plant is selected for its tendency to grow tall and straight. The Euphorbia Lactea plant is also from the ‘Cristata’ variety, which has large, and fan-like lives. During the grafting process, these fan-like leaves are the key aspects of the plant to consider.
A Word of Caution
Similar to plants from the Euphorbia species, the base and the crest of the plant might consist of sharp spines. These spines might lead to irritation, and you need to wear protective gloves when handling the plant. Also, ensure that you graft the plant correctly to avoid over-cutting the key sections.
The plant classifies as a category three plant, and it must not be distributed or disposed of. Thus, it may not be released into the environment, unless a legitimate agency regulates its distribution.
The plant species is naturalized, especially in the drier inland areas of Australia. More so, the plant has been famous in various parts including Queensland and New South Wales. Plus, its also occasionally naturalized to the West and South of Australia
In places such as the Sonoran Desert, the plant grows in broad areas, and the thorny bushes of foothills. Furthermore, the plant species is also common in creosote scrubs, coastal scrubs, desert grasslands, and more.
Even more, the plant also invades natural grasslands and pastures, where it competes with resources with various other native species. It also stops movement and causes injuries to wild animals. Reptiles, birds, and other small mammals are often impaled with the spines, and eventually, succumb to death.
Stem and Leaves
The coral cactus does not have leaves, and it has spines instead. On average, it has 6 to 12, which will develop from each areole. More so, the young branches consist of silvery yellow spines, which may darken to grey as the plant ages.
Plus, the spines develop a dense layer, which might obstruct the growth of spines. Slower growing or old branches might also feature sparse or short needles. As the spines fall from the mature plants, a brown, black bark is revealed. It often becomes scaly and rough as the plant ages.
Flowers and Fruits
Furthermore, the flowers in coral cactus are usually pink or white, with streaks of lavender. They also average at one inch wide and are displayed at the joint tips, and they bloom in mid-summer times. Plus, most of the plant is fleshy, with green fruits that are sterile and pear-shaped, almost round in size. On average, the plants are 4cm long and may produce flowers all through the year, which might develop new fruits from the previous seasons.
Reproduction and dispersal
Coral cactus reproduces vegetatively, and its stems and fruits will root once they detach from the plant. That said, in its native areas, the plant reproduces vegetatively, with most of the plant having fully developed seeds.
Growth and Propagation of Coral Cactus
To graft coral cactus successfully, the following steps are needed:
- Make a v-shaped cut on the base of the plant`s crest. Ensure the cut curves outwards for the best results.
- Then, you will also have to cut the root of the stock of the cactus in V-shape. Ensure that it curves inwards
- Then, place two components together in a way that ensures the joint is perfectly integrated into the plant.
- Cover the joint using some grafting wax, to stop any plant drying issues. Also, tie the plant using a rope and hold the two pieces together until it heals.
- If the two plants are compatible, then the graft should heal in a few weeks. If it fails to recover fully, then you can replace the wax and the rope. That said, be careful during this period, as any damage can compromise the growth of the plant.
- The young coral cactus will grow from the same plant. You can cut the new growths, and dry them for a few weeks, before potting them. The plants will soon produce roots. Then, plant the saplings in the soil, and there is no way of predicting how they will grow. If the plants fail to grow, then just take a new batch and start again.
- With adequate care, your coral cactus will grow with many beautiful pink and purple flowers. This usually occurs around a year after the grafting process and in warm conditions.
Coral Cactus Care Tips
- Plant the coral cactus in gritty soil, which drains easily. You can achieve this by mixing it with the conventional potting soil, and some sand.
- Never the plant more than the deep root level. This helps ensure the plant will not rot.
- The plant can survive in arid areas. To stimulate this process, out the plant in a warm place, with indirect sunlight. The best temperature around the plant should be 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Water the plants, to ensure the soil stays moist. Any excess water will cause the plant to start drying. The flesh and the root of the plant may begin to rot, and you have to stop this. Ensure the soil dries completely, from the previous watering, before you pour in some water. Placing your finger deep in the soil will give you a basic idea of whether to pour some water or not.
- Use a diluted solution of fertilizer once in a while, especially during fall for your convenience
- Turn the plant to the side facing the sun, to ensure that it does not grow lopsided.
- More so, repotting the plant as required will ensure that it grows well. The hardiness zones of this plant are between 10-11, so grow them accordingly.
- Coral cactus might produce a toxic latex sap, which means you should keep it away from children or pets. Also, use gloves when handling the plant and wash them for optimal safety.
Coral Cactus Problems
These plants tend to be hard and are not susceptible to several issues. However, there are some points you need to consider to keep growth complications at bay. They include:
The grafted coral cactus is rarely subject to reverting, and the rootstock often develops as required. If this occurs, it will lead to the development of a secondary stem of neriifolia, close to the lacteal crown. Thus, you can leave it that way, and this plant might have an unusual appearance. Or you can remove it carefully close to the crest and let the latex scab over the cut areas.
While latex sap is deterrent to pets, mealybugs and other types of insects still affect the growth of the plant. Consider using cotton placed in some rubbing alcohol, to help remove the pests.
More so, spider mites might also compromise the growth of the plant. Since insecticidal soaps can affect the plant, use a spray of water to remove the spider mites, and their eggs. Then, let the plant dry thoroughly. Even more, using heavily diluted neem oil is excellent for the plants.
In humid environments with minima airflow, powdery mildew might occur. It is best to prevent this disease, as many treatments might compromise the leaves of the coral cactus. If mildew appears, you can use baking soda to treat the plant.
If the soil is too wet, the plant might suffer from root rot. Use the correct potting mix, and some water when required to stop any rot. Once the cactus starts showing any damage, it is often too late to save the plant from rot.
How Do You Graft Coral Cactus?
Even if most euphorbias plants are easy to grow by using cuttings rather than seed, coral cactus only grows through grafting. The procedure is often complicated. Just as previously mentioned, ensure you put on protective gloves when grafting the plant.
- Begin by going for healthy young coral cactus plants. The more immature plants are more likely to respond to grafting better, as when compared to the older plants. Also, consider going for plants that also look good together.
- Nest then cut a V shape into the base of the plant, remove its upper portion, and leave enough of the stem to help hold the crest in position. Then, cut the stem of the lactea plant in a pointed shape, such that it fits snugly into the stem of the neriifolia.
- Once you fit the two plants correctly, use grafting wax to cover the cut areas, and ensure they remain clean and sealed. Use twine to help reinforce the grafted and cut areas of the plant. It might take at least 2-3 weeks before the plants can join to grow, but don’t be surprised if it takes longer.
- After three weeks, it’s time for you to remove the twine and wax to evaluate the joint of the plant. If it has not integrated fully, then use some fresh wax, and retie the twine together. After a few days, recheck the plant.
Light and Temperature
New plants should grow in partial shade conditions, and you can move them gradually to the full sun. In hot areas, the plant should grow in shaded areas, especially in the heat of the day to stop sun damage. When grown indoors, place the plant in a window with adequate light daily. As the crest grows towards the direction of the sun, ensure you pot it regularly to stop any lopsided growth.
Similar to most succulents, coral cactus will thrive in warm areas, of at least ten degrees centigrade in temperature. Any temperature below this is not suitable for plant growth.
Water and Humidity
Quite contrary to most succulents and cacti, coral cactus is not resistant to dry conditions, even though it thrives in dry soil. Moreover, soggy soil might lead to root rot complications.
A proper technique is to water the top sections of the soil and avoid wetting the ground. Never water the plant directly, and instead of water the soil and let it run out of the pot base. Also, any coral cactus that is wilted probably suffers from this issue of overwatering.
Coral cactus will require regular watering during its active growth days, especially during the summer and spring months. You can reduce the rate of watering during the winter and fall seasons.
The plant also enjoys humid environments, such as grow rooms. The grow room has to have the right conditions required for coral cactus to grow.
The coral cactus will need more frequent watering during its active growth period in the spring and summer months. You can reduce the frequency of water during the fall and winter.
Coral cactus also enjoys humid environments such as greenhouses – provided there is good airflow. If growing coral cactus indoors, watch for signs of powdery mildew.
Growing plants often requires a specific process and set of steps to achieve the best results. In particular, coral cactus is a delicate plant, and it involves a set of particular growth conditions for optimal growth.
The plant does not thrive well in soggy soil, and this might lead to root rot. More so, you need to wear protective gloves, because it has spines, which might injure your fingers. Coral cactus is also possible to graft, and we have outlined the steps involved above.
Furthermore, the coral cactus plant does thrive in soggy soil, but it requires humid conditions. It is best to water the top sections of the plant or ensure water drains out from the pot base. Grown correctly, coral cactus can thrive, and even produce young seedlings.
These little guys are super easy to care for and can survive long periods of no watering, so they are a great option for anyone who is really busy
The Coral Cactus is one of the more colorful cactus, with its flower heads sporting a beautiful array of bright red, pink, and orange. The flowers of the Coral Cactus are quite showy and can make a great addition to any garden or landscape.