Sunday, September 12, 2010

Question for the Hive Mind: Freaky NOID Succulent

I got an e-mail last Tuesday from a reader who requested help identifying this plant:

And I had no idea. He said that it was identified for him as a Madagascar palm, which normally means Pachypodium, but neither he nor I have been able to find any Pachypodium that looks like this.

The big, broad leaves made me think maybe Plumeria, but as far as I could find, all Plumerias have large, five-petaled flowers, so that's out.

Also, he says it has milky sap, not clear like for most of the Apocynaceae (Adenium, Pachypodium, Plumeria, Nerium, Mandevilla, etc.). And the leaves being red is not normal for the Apocynaceae either.

My theory as of last Thursday is Monadenium spectabilis (sometimes spectabile), though that doesn't fit the facts perfectly either. But:

Monadenium have been reassigned to the genus Euphorbia by some taxonomists, which would go along with the plant having milky sap.

According to, Monadeniums tend to be green, but turn red in bright light. Which works.

Wikipedia had one photo of a Monadenium (M. spectabilis, as it happened) that had brownish fuzzy-looking things along the stem, like the mystery plant, though in the picture the fuzzy things were on distinct little bumps along the stem, instead of being in smooth lines like on the mystery plant. But that could maybe be cultural or photographic differences. And Pachypodiums don't do anything at all like that, so.

Monadenium and Pachypodium can be close enough that at least one person in the Google Image Search results has a Pachypodium labeled as a Monadenium. Not a lot of a stretch to think that the mislabeling could go both ways, which would explain why it was originally identified as a Madagascar palm. (The search results for "monadenium," by the way, also include a couple photos from PATSP, of a plant I believed to be a Monadenium. It eventually turned out to be Euphorbia drupifera.)

I found one photo of M. spectabilis on that had a narrow base that turned woody at the bottom, like the mystery plant.

The broad, flat leaves aren't much of a problem, though I didn't see any Monadeniums with leaves as big as the mystery plant's, so there's still some uncertainty.

The flowers remain unexplained by the M. spectabilis theory as well: all the Monadenium photos I found looked very different from those on the mystery plant, and the M. spectablilis flowers specifically were all on long, reddish stalks, not poking directly out of the plant's stem. The pictures show flowers that don't really resemble anything in the Euphorbiaceae I can think of. Which is a huge problem.

Also one picture of M. spectabilis (the photo linked above) showed spines on the midrib on the underside of the leaves, but the midribs of the mystery plant are smooth, according to the photos.

So, that's as far as I was able to get with it.

UPDATE: The e-mailer has turned up another possibility, Euphorbia neohumbertii, which has similar stems and a similar overall shape, though the leaf scars on the mystery plant are smaller than in most of the E. neohumbertii photos I found. Also I couldn't find any indication that E. neohumbertii ever gets red leaves, and its flowers are similar, but not quite the right color and form: the mystery plant has a whole mess of white stuff coming out of the dull-red flower or bract or whatever it is, and E. neohumbertii typically has bright-red or red-orange flowers with only a couple yellow things (pistils?) sticking out.

Another strike against E. neohumbertii is that it has actual spines, in addition to the fuzzy-looking brown stuff. And sometimes its fuzzy brown stuff is actually fuzzy gray stuff. On the plus side, it actually is native to Madagascar, which Monadenium spectabilis is not. (Tanzania, if you must know.)

We do appear to be zeroing in on an ID, though. It's somewhere in the Euphorbiaceae.

SECOND UPDATE: The plant appears to be Euphorbia leuconeura, or "Madagascar Jewel," as identified by Pat in the comments. Pat gets 5000 PATSP points, which are so far not actually redeemable for anything. But maybe someday.


Ginny Burton said...

What a singularly unattractive plant! I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but geez. The people who own it must be really wonderful, caring folks.

Anonymous said...

Long time lurker posting today!
I think this might be it. Euphorbia drupifera
Here's a link ( It's German I think sorry...).

The only real difference I can see is the red cast to the leaves on the pics in your blog.
Hope this helps!


Pat said...

Euphorbia leuconeura? The Madagascar Jewel.

Pat said...

The red leaf is more evident in these photos. If you translate the Czech you will see it called "almost ideal houseplant". Watch out for the explosive seedpods.

mr_subjunctive said...

Ginny Burton:

Oh come on now. You'll hurt its feelings.


Well, the overall shape is similar (I actually have a E. drupifera), but drupifera has pairs of spines and no brown fuzzy stuff. And the flowers are very different. (1, 2) Definitely in the ballpark, but not quite it.


You, on the other hand, appear to have nailed it again. I'm really surprised, from the commenters (, that so many people have these already. People aren't supposed to own plants unless I've heard of them.

And of course now I want one, too. I have such terrible impulse control.

Liza said...

Long time listener, first time caller. I'm with Ginny. Ugly.

Tom said...

Jeeze. I always thought they were really pretty. I agree with the euphorbia leuconeura ID. Now if only I could ever find one for sale...

Unknown said...

Thank you, mrsubjunctive, Pat, and readers of PATSP for helping me identify my plant! Gina and Liza, I'll admit that the pictures aren't so flattering :) The leaves have been yellowing and falling off, hence my urgency in identifying the plant to learn more about it. But when it has a full crown of leaves, it's beautiful, and it's amazing to watch it grow. The trunk is five-sided and twists as it grows if I turn the plant periodically. Thanks again, everyone.

Pat said...

I've never seen it offered for sale. Perhaps it is what I think of as a WI (Women's Institute) plant. Offered at fund-raising events along with jam and cakes. Too easy and bullet-proof for commercial nurseries to sell them.

Thanks for the points, I'll put them on my CV and get a job in no time :0)

Sentient Meat said...

For those looking to acquire this handsome plant (in this eye of this beholder), Euphorbia leuconeura, I wasn't able to locate it with a cursory web search. But I DID find the similar Euphorbia neohumbertii at Arid Lands Greenhouses:

mr_subjunctive said...

Tom / SentientMeat:

GlasshouseWorks has them. I wasn't looking for it (I'd wound up on GHW in the process of working on a post for Tuesday), I swear, but there it was. $4.25, check for availability before ordering.

I suspect Pat is right about why they aren't more widely available: if they're really as easy as all that, then they might be in that group of plants like Callisia fragrans and Pilea peperomioides, the stuff that's too easy to reproduce and not flashy enough to sell well, that's more of a passalong plant than a retail plant. GHW is a good source for those kinds of plants, though. (They also have Callisia and Pilea, for whatever that's worth.)

Sentient Meat said...

Mr Subjunctive: Thanks for that info!

On a related note: I recently did my first (and probably last) transaction with GHW. They took forever (6-7 weeks for my order... 12-13 weeks for my friend B--- L---), sent embarrassingly tiny plants, and kept stalling and delaying without being clear about the source of the problem. I have never had another vendor who required so much follow-up and extracted so much business-y EFFORT from me, just to get them to send me my plants.

Word on the street is they PROPAGATE TO ORDER (rather than truly advertising stock on hand). But they charge your credit card the day of your order. (Nice for them. Bad for you.) And their markup on some plants is outlandish.

Yes, they advertise some of the easy-to-grow-but-hard-to-find plants. I suppose that's a good thing, though they substituted 1 of the 2 plants on my order, so it's hard to tell how much of the catalog is truly available or, as they say in the software business, 'vaporware'.

Anonymous said...

This plant is now on my want list. Couple of my buddies and I are going to GHW on the 25th already so I'll see about getting one!

mr_subjunctive said...

Sentient Meat:

Yeah, I've heard that too, about propagation beginning at the time of the order, and I've seen a lot of complaints more or less along the same lines as what you said, from people at It comes up with such regularity that I wonder why they don't figure out some way of making it clearer to people how things work, or maintaining a certain amount of stock on hand for everything, or something. There has to be a way to streamline that process somewhere, you'd think. Especially if it's losing them business.

(Which it has: I've personally been scared off by the number of complaints, and the descriptions of the problems people have had with them, and I'm pretty sure I represent a significant amount of business, all by myself. I'd be more likely to order with them now, because I know to expect delays, and to be emphatic about no substitutions, etc.)

Tony said...

About GHW...I've had totally the opposite experience. Of course my experience might be different because I can actually go to the physical location. Last time I went I loaded up on Philodendron species.They had picked a Philodendron giganteum for me that I had to reject because it was too big...over 4 feet in fact.I didn't have a pot available at the time that would hold it...
I would sat that I am 95% happy with the service, but as I said, I can go to the physical location.

Pat said...

I hadn't heard of Callisia fragrans so I looked it up. Looks nice and I'm always interested in fragrant, edible and medicinal but there is only one source in the whole UK listed by Plant Finder at the RHS. They say they have only just managed to get it and are charging £6.50 per plant ($10.00). Should I wait until it comes free with every plant they sell? Does it come from seed easily?

mr_subjunctive said...


That tracks with the complaints I've heard, actually. I haven't heard anyone complain about the actual physical location. Though I imagine people would complain, if going to the physical location normally involved charging your credit card for plants you wouldn't receive until three or four months later.


Callisia fragrans is an offsetter, more or less like Saxifraga stolonifera; it might be growable from seed, but I don't know anybody who actually produces it that way.

£6.50 / $10 seems unreasonably high to me, especially if it's only one plant and it's something as prolific as Callisia. In bright light, the leaves turn purple, and it's incredibly easy to grow, and if you've got one then you've got a thousand, but the growth habit is sort of gangly and awkward, and the flowers, though fragrant and long-lasting, don't have a lot else going for them. If you could propagate and re-sell, then it could be worth £6.50, but if there's any chance of finding one elsewhere, I'd wait. It sort of depends on how many other plant enthusiasts you know.

Pat said...

There is a plant swap for locals in two weeks time, I'll see if anyone wants to deal in Callisia futures. Fragrant will do me if it is nice, did it get stronger?

Sentient Meat said...

Re: GHW @Mr Subjunctive: Yes, I totally agree. You'd think they'd try to find a way to communicate better and streamline some of their business processes.

Once you get used to Arid Lands Greenhouses (which often packs and ships your order within hours or MINUTES of receiving it), it's hard to accept waiting until the entire growing season is over -- especially for winter-dormant succulents. Particularly when they've had your money the entire time.

In the world of specialty plants, there is a place for small, mom-and-pop operations with photocopied catalogs (or 1998-appearing websites) where "everybody knows" you put in your order by fax or mail and wait 3 to 6 months to receive your plants. (*cough* Bob Smoley's Garden World *cough*) Some of these have been operating for 30 years, catering to collectors and hobbyists. But the prices tend to be modest, in keeping with the level of service.

I wasn't expecting that with GHW. I even called ahead to confirm availability on my plants. "Yes. Sure, no problem, we have those." Then two months later, "I'm still trying to fatten that D. g. up some more." Grrr.

mr_subjunctive said...


Not really, no. It seemed to vary somewhat with the time of day, though, being weaker at night and stronger in the day.

Unknown said...

That is undoubtedly a Madagascar Jewel. My gut reaction is that yours needs more light and less water. When I brought mine inside this fall, it lost some of its lower leaves and I had to cut way back on the watering. It prefers plastic pots over clay.
I find it a uniquely attractive plant. Anyone that comes over marvels at the plant and wants to know what it is. My mother plant is about 6 years old and a 3rd generation from the Botany lab at UNC-Asheville. Just this year it sprouted a side-shoot.
Since this spring, I have collected dozens of its seeds and reared 14 seedlings that are looking for good homes. I just don't know how to ship them.

mr_subjunctive said...

- IAN:

The plant in this post isn't mine, so I don't have any control over how it's cared for, but I did get a few seeds from it. (Most didn't survive the trip through the postal system, but I succeeded with one of them.)

Whether it's ugly or not seems to depend on the specimen and the observer: I've seen some photos on-line that barely even look like the same plant. But at the very least it's interesting, and interesting counts for a lot.

As far as mailing plants, it's probably too cold for a while (I don't usually mail plants between October/November and April/May), but I have a post about how I do it. May or may not be useful to you.

Anita said...

Thanks so much for naming this plant! I've had one for years and LOVE it. Mine is over three feet tall, very green and bushy (several limbs have grown out of the trunk). It loves a sunny window and will reward you if you put it in a large pot. The most amazing thing about it is that it spits its seed clear across the room when they are ripe. So fun! Many seeds have landed in nearby plant pots (or fallen down into its own soil) and sprouted as well. Very easy to grow this one.

Anonymous said...

The plant in the picture is dying. I have had these plants for 15 years and have never been able to identify them. I will check out everyone's suggestions. My Mother plant is 6 feet tall, having started from a 1-inch tall slip which I bought for 10cents at a garage sale. I have started some 25 other plants as they self seed and given them away. I am amazed as they grow under office flourscent lights very well. My mother plant is in a warm south window, and yes it spits seeds during the night. My plant too is bushy, has branches like a tree and never ever stops growing. If anyone would like to email me for a picture of my plant, it's - Lori M.
And yes, the seedlings HATE CLAY POTS !

Saby said...

Dang, those are really common up here and well-known enough that if you hear the local name for "Euphorbia" in common parlance, it means this species specifically. My circles know the species as what translates to "Naughty Boy" because of its habit to sow its wild oats into neighbouring pots. Another local name is Sailor's Fling.

AkBuffaloBob said...

The plant in the picture above is not very healthy. I have the exact same plant and it is very bushy and has three arms. The main stalk is 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the arms are a little less and all have a lot of leaves. I started with three seeds from another plant that I wrapped in a paper towel and kept in a cup of water till they sprouted (well one of them) then transplanted to a clay pot and it took off. The whole plant is not 2 1/2 feet wide and three feet tall. You are right, he/she loves to spit seeds. I have a bunch of babies in extra large pot that I have him/her in.