Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia Tirucalli) Guide – Learn About Types, Care, Watering, Propagation and More

An extremely special type of Euphorbia’s, Pencil Cactus makes an unusual sillhouette in your home decor, as well as it is a distinctive addition to the gardens.

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In fact, Pencil Cactus is actually a succulent plant than a cactus. Water storing stems of this plant help it to stay alive under the harsh conditions of hot and dry climate around Africa. Although the sap of its leaves is highly toxic and irritating for the skin and eyes, there are severe traditional medical uses of this plant. 

Since these succulents are very hardy and widespread around their habitat by this reason, they recently started to grow a popularity as unique houseplants all around the globe. I wanted to collect my long, deep researches and personal experiences about Euphorbia Tirucalli in one place. So here you have all the details of how to grow a Pencil Cactus at homes.

Identification of the Species

Before advancing on how to give the best care for these plants, let’s begin with getting to know them by close, to understand their do’s and don’ts.

Species of Euphorbia Tirucalli is classified under the plant family of Euphorbiaceae. As you may understand, these plants are actually not cacti species, unlike the common opinion about them. Euphorbia Tirucalli belongs to the higher classification; Spurges which is very large and diversing genus.


Pencil Cactus is originally growing on dry areas at the northeastern, central and southern parts of the African continent. Because they are adapted to the specific environment of the certain land piece, these plants are hardy for the extreme hots and droughts.

They are the least concerned to be threatened with the extinction in the current status. Mainly because they have great capacity to survive the difficult environments.

Euphorbia Tirucalli in its natural habitat in Nampula province of Mozambique.


Pencil Cactus have quite an interesting figure. When the plant is young and small, it resembles a plant coming from an underwater world. After it grows bigger in size, branches start to form a wood-like main stem. I think that gives the succulent an appearance of a tiny tree.

Euphorbia Tirucalli succulents have stems forming in the shape and size of pencils growing out like branches of a tree. The only foliage shows up from the tip of the stems, with a slight brown tint. The tiny leaves disappear once the stems reach maturity. 

Common Names

Euphorbia Tirucalli is a type of succulent plant known with many other names. It is called mainly as; firestick plantsIndian tree spurgepencil treepencil cactussticks on fire or milk bush.

Most spread name of this plant is probably Pencil Cactus. This name is driven by the shape of its stems in the diameter of pencils. Also, the dark brown-red hue that is developing at the tips of these stems is the reason behind they are called as Sticks on Fire widely.

Toxicity and Preventions

I have to stress one thing to consider while maintaining Pencil Cactus at homes. Like all the other Euphorbia species, Pencil Cactus contains a white sap inside its body. This waxy liquid is very irritating for the skin if touched. It causes sickness if ingested by children or pets.

You should place the plant at an off-reach point to keep it apart from your kids and pets. By this way some other accidental breakage of the sticks could be prevented. Briefly, make sure that the toxic sap stays inside of the stem.

As another precaution, try to use gloves, glasses and a mask while you are dealing with the plant. Plantation, trimming, propagating, and repotting will let the irritating liquid out. I would recommend you to protect your eyes and skin, especially if you have allergies in general.

Medical Uses of Pencil Cactus

Many cultures in Brazil, India, Malaysia make use of Euphorbia Tirucalli medically. Traditional treatments of many sicknesses like asthma, cough, earache, neuralgia, rheumatism, toothache are considered to be cured with the help of this succulent plant.

Where to Grow Pencil Cactus: Indoors or Outdoors?

Pencil Cactus is a type of succulent that can live both indoors and outdoors healthy, with a slight change in the care routine.

These plants usually do better at about the degrees of room temperature. Yet, different from the other kinds of succulents, they are tolerant to lower temperatures. They are able to stay alive even the temperatures are freezing. Surely, Euphorbia Turicalli species make a great outdoor succulent even for the colder climates.

Besides, these species can be grown in the average temperatures and low humidity levels of indoor spaces.

How to Care for a Pencil Cactus Indoors?


Euphorbias cared indoors, need an absolute full sun during the day. They can not tolerate a low lighting. Eventually, they show dissatisfaction by elongating and leaning towards the light source.

A lot of sunlight your plant takes every day, will not only keep it in a compact shape but also will help it produce a dark red tint on the tips of the stem. So that your Firestick Plant will look fabulous.

Place your Pencil Cactus at the brightest location in the house. Check it sometimes, in order to make sure it gets at least a few hours of direct light. And that is it!


Pencil Cactus is a succulent plant with rare water needs. Give water to your plant occasionally. Remember that these species can tolerate a drought, but they will rot quickly if they are over-watered.

In the summer and spring, you can water your Pencil Cactus weekly because it is in the active growing season. You can cut the irrigation back to a monthly basis during the cooler seasons.

A good way of watering Pencil Cactus is, pouring a big amount of water to the soil. And then allow the excess water to drain. Once the roots and the stem capture all the water they can store, the plant does not need another irrigation for a long time.

Soil and Pot

You will definitely need a good draining soil and pot. Pencil Cactus does not like to stay in the wet soil for long periods of time. Porous and grainy soil and a pot with drainage holes, helps the beginner succulent owners a lot, when it comes to watering.

You can find out how to choose the best pot for your succulents with the help of my guide post about it. And if you want to prepare your own DIY succulent soil, here is the recipe I use all the time.

How Big does the Pencil Cactus Grow?

Pencil Cactus is one of the houseplants can grow such extreme heights with an easy care.

Image via Flickr

In an atmosphere where every circumstance is controlled as the original habitat of Pencil Cactus, these plants can grow up to 8-9 meters of height, which is highly unusual for a houseplant. However, they sustain a moderate size between 2 – 2.5 meters tall if they are cared as indoor succulents.

Does the Pencil Cactus Need Fertilizer?

Your Pencil Cactus probably will not need an additional nutrition. The soil procures all the nutrients for the plant.

Still, if you feel like your succulent could benefit from a little additive nutrition go with a slow-releasing, organic fertilizer. Use a diluted mixture if necessary and fertilize the Pencil Cactus once in a year around the spring season. 

How to Trim Pencil Cactus?

Generally, Pencil Cactus grown at homes does not need pruning very often. Yet, if you have some outdoor succulents which are growing too big, some of its branches can be trimmed. This could give your plant a pretty shape and promote a healthy growth.

As I mentioned before, be careful about the toxic sap inside the stem of Pencil Cactus. Avoid direct contact with the plant. More importantly, protect your eyes because the irrigating sap can be damaging.

How to Propagate Pencil Cactus?

These species are easy-to-propagate types of plants, just like the majority of succulents. They can be propagated with some cuttings taken from one or a few healthy stems. These cuttings will develop tiny roots when they dry out for a couple of days on a clean surface. After that, they are ready to be planted in new pots.

The same as the pruning of Pencil Cactus, remember to protect yourselves from the touch of irrigating latex of the Euphorbias.

When to Re-pot Pencil Cactus?

I have already told about how large these succulent types can grow. That means, the roots growing out of the pot will require a transplant, maybe every two or three years by estimation.

While the Pencil Cactus enlarges, it also gains weight. Probably, it would be a good idea to switch to a heavy and stable base that will be able to carry the plant.

Image via Flickr

Pencil Cactus or Firestick Plant is a quite unique type of the succulent because of its appearance. Although it is super easy to care it both indoors and outdoors, this succulent species needs a careful handling. Despite the skin irritating sap it is producing, none of us seemed to be able to stay away from the appeal of Pencil Cactus…

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