Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mistakes Were Made

I've posted before about my pruning project. This has been my attempt to make the bushes in the front of the yard at the top of the cliff grow in short and bushy. Although I've managed to bring the height down a little and the top story is nicely filled in there is a lower level about 2 feet high that was bare so you could see down to the street.

I had a brilliant idea to plant something under there that would fill in and screen out the street. My choice, since I don't like to pay for things I don't have to, was cuttings from a couple of giant Euphorbia tirucalli trees that grow in my neighborhood. By giant, I mean about 30 feet high and 40 feet wide. They've grown so big that they are encroaching on the road and sometimes larger vehicles knock branches down. I figured I would be doing the neighborhood a service by thinning them out a little bit.

I blithely drove my truck underneath them and cut a few 2' pieces to plant under shrubs. They bled a bunch of sap that was a little sticky and annoying but I figured it was a small price to pay for some free plants.

Some of you may know where this story is going. It turns out Euphorbia tirucalli sap is poisonous. If you get it on your skin it itches and burns and causes a rash like poison ivy. I can now verify this from experience. If you get it it your eyes it can cause blindness. Blindness! I got some sap in my eyes when I was taking a shower later that night, maybe some got in my hair or something, and although I didn't go blind, it did burn like fire. Now I know.

So a year has passed and aside from its toxic vengeance E. tirucalli has been wildly successful. It had totally filled in the space below the bushes and is now spilling out over the other plants.

It's also now growing taller than the bushes. You can see one poking it's head up above the leaves of the shrub.

This is the same shot about a month later. I swear it has grown about 4 inches.

I admire its tenacity and think it's beautiful it just seems too problematic to have in the front yard where I'm going to have to be working around it. I need to step into that bed to prune the bushes and now I'm afraid that I'll break a stem and get showered with sap.

In my defense, I did have some experience with E. tirucalli in the past. I've had this plant for about 8 years:

I think Samantha brought it home from a job site and left it when she moved. It has stayed the same size and the same basic shape for 8 years. Maybe it's because it's in a pot or maybe I've neglected it, but it never gave me any indication that if I put it in the ground it would devote itself to my destruction through fiery itchiness.

I decided that I needed to take all of the plants out before they got too big. I put on gloves, pants, long sleeves and safety glasses.

They put up a fight but I managed to pry them out with a shovel.
It looks like their roots grew straight out of the cut end. I would have expected roots to grow from a node.

Ahhhh! Sap!

The branches are soft and easy to break so I tried to handle them as gently as possible. The first one was about 4' tall and very bushy.

It makes nice potted plant...if you don't come too close.

So now I have a forest of these in pots. The tallest one is over 6 feet but it's very wobbly because the bush was holding it up. I have it loosely staked but hopefully it will stiffen up now that it's on its own.

I'm not sure what to do with them. I thought about planting them in the empty lot next door but what if the guys that clear the hill get too close with their weed wackers? They could create a poison sap cloud. Yikes.

I could plant them somewhere in my yard but, as I mentioned, these get big and I'm not sure I want 5 giant poisonous trees taking over the hill.

For now they can sit outside my window and think about what they've done.

The front yard is looking a little sparse again. The euphorbias really did do a good job of filling in that empty space.

I have some plans for what I can do to fix it but I'm going to try to be a little more thoughtful this time and plan for the long run.

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