When we think about adding plants to our homes, succulents are the first plants we think about. They do not need a lot of care, and they add life and beauty to the living area. One of the succulents you can have in your home is a coral cactus.
Coral cactus, also called the crested candelabra plant, candelabra plant, crested elkhorn, or crested euphorbia, is not a cactus. Instead, it is a beautiful coral-looking plant created by joining two succulents together.
The coral cactus is part of the Euphorbia genus, which has its origin in Africa. The genus has over 2,000 types of succulents, commonly known as “spurges.” They are popular for poisonous sap known as latex.
The two types of succulents used to make the coral cactus are Euphorbia neriifolia and Euphorbia lacteal.
Euphorbia neriifolia is used at the base, mainly because of its straight-growing characteristics. The Euphorbia lacteal makes the top, and it normally has large leaves that have rippled surfaces and have a fan-like shape.
The edges of the crinkled and rippled leaves could either be green, purple, yellow, white, or red. The stem, however, is normally green. Once mounted together, the two plants create a beautiful coral-like plant, which gives the coral cactus its name.
The coral cactus rarely produces flowers, but the flowers are small and can either be pink or purple when it does. It mainly happens on very old plants.
Also, the plant sap is toxic and could cause harm when ingested or touched. The sap, which is thick and white, causes skin irritations and conditions like dermatitis.
When it gets to the eye, it could cause irritation and temporary blindness, and when you ingest it, it might cause nausea and vomiting. When you cut the plant, the sap dries clear but could still irritate when you touch it.
Like many of the euphorbia plants, the crest and base of the coral cactus have sharp spines, which could also irritate if they prick your skin.
Therefore, anytime you want to handle the coral cactus, always wear gloves. Also, keep it where your children and pets cannot reach it.
When you grow it in the best conditions in a container, the coral cactus could grow up to a height of 2 feet. The spines are normally ½ an inch thick, and as the plant grows older, they could develop leaves that fall off and regrow after every year.
Caring For The Coral Cactus
Even though the coral cactus has some characteristics and resembles a cactus, treating it like a cactus may result in stunted growth or even death. Some of the things you have to pay attention to when taking care of your coral cactus include:
If you are in zones 10 and 11, you can grow your coral cactus outdoors all year round. However, in other regions, you should move it indoors during the cooler months. Coral cactus does well in temperatures between 60 and 85 degrees F.
If the temperature drops below 50 degrees F, that damages the leaves and could even kill the plant.
While you can grow it in full sun conditions, consider giving it partial shade during the hottest times of the day to prevent it from getting sunburnt. For example, if you just got a new coral cactus plant, start growing it in partial shade and gradually introduce it to full sun.
Coral cactus does best under full light. Therefore, place it near a window that receives bright sunlight for at least 3-5 hours daily. To encourage even growth of your plant, turn it often to ensure all sides get the same sunlight.
When dealing with succulents, the rule of watering is always "when in doubt, do not water." In addition, you should be careful not to overwater or underwater the plant. Overwatering causes root rot which eventually kills the plant, while underwatering causes it to wither and die.
To know the best time to water it, check if the top 2-4 inches of the soil are dry. You could also check through the drainage holes in the container if the roots are dry or check if the leaves are droopy. If you find any of these conditions, it’s time to water. Water the soil and not the plant.
Coral cactus does best in cactus potting soil. However, you can also use any other well-drained and gritty soil. If you do not get cactus soil, add a small amount of organic matter into your soil for nutrients.
You should not worry about the pH of the soil too much as coral cactus can grow perfectly in slightly alkaline to slightly acidic soils.
You can add loose gravel around the base of your plant, especially if you are planting it outdoor. That acts as a mulch to prevent rapid water loss and weed growth.
You should fertilize your coral cactus regularly during the spring and summer growing seasons. Dilute a 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer to ¼ of its strength to make it a 2.5-2.5-2.5 and use it on your plant after every two weeks.
If you have rich soil, you can fertilize it fewer times than that. Avid using granular or slow-release fertilizer as it could stick up against the plant's rootstock and burn the plant. Do not fertilize the plant in the winter and fall seasons because it doesn't need the added nutrients.
Coral cactus do not normally require frequent pruning. You only need to prune it if you discover a fungal root or any other infection on the plant. Fungal rots could happen either on the root or crest of your plant.
The first signs are softening and browning of the crest. When pruning, sterilize the blade to avoid spreading the rot to other parts of the plant. Also, put on gloves to avoid coming into contact with the latex that could cause irritation and skin infection.
Grafting A Coral Cactus
Euphorbias are normally propagated through cuttings dipped in a rooting hormone since they rarely seed. But with the coral cactus, it is different because it is a graft between 2 plants, making the propagation more complex.
To effectively graft your coral cactus:
Before handling the plants and making the cuts, always have gloves on and wash your hand thoroughly with soap and running water finishing the process.
Often repotting the coral cactus is not necessary unless it is root bound, which rarely happens. When you bring your new plant home, ensure the roots are not bound together before planting it.
If you see signs of root entanglement, repot your plant in a larger pot, but add cactus planting soil as necessary. Ensure that the pot has good drainage to prevent root rot.
Terracotta and other breathable pots are the best to plant your coral cactus because they allow for the evaporation of excess water. However, in hot areas, you might want to choose ones that keep the water in longer.
Coral Cactus Problems
Despite the coral cactus being a special plant, it faces some growing problems just like other plants. Some of the problems you might encounter when growing a coral cactus include:
You may encounter reverting, which is a condition where the rootstock of the Euphorbia neriifolia tries to redevelop as a neriifolia. That creates a secondary stalk or stem that grows next to the lacteal crest.
You can choose to let the stem grow or eliminate it carefully, letting the lactea crest scab over the cut part.
Coral cactus has immunity against a lot of pests because of the toxicity of its latex. However, there are some like the mealybugs plus other scale insects that attack the plant. You could also spot spider mites on the plant.
To eliminate them, use rubbing alcohol with a 70% concentration as a higher concentration could burn the plant. Also, do not use insecticidal soaps as that could damage your plant. To remove spider mites, use a spray of high-pressure water or diluted neem oil.
Coral cactus has some mild fungicidal benefits, which keep off many diseases, and the latex sealing properties also prevent the entry of other diseases. However, you might deal with diseases like powdery mildew, root rot, and fungal root.
Root rot mainly happens due to a lot of water, while fungal root happens due to damage of the leaves by cold. Powdery mildew occurs when there is a lot of humidity and low airflow.