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Euphorbia francoisii (2024)

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From deep pink-red to delicate yellow-pinks to vibrant kelly green, Euphorbia francoisii flowers offer an impressive variety of colors. Photo sources: reddit.com, worldofsucculents.com, planetdesert.com, artisanplants.com.

By Emily Hall (February 2024)

Euphorbia francoisii is a caudex-forming dwarf species endemic to the southeast coast of Madagascar, where it grows along the seashore in subtropical and dry tropical forests or shrublands. It reaches only about 6 inches in height and grows evergreen leaves that appear as rosettes at the ends of the branches.

As the plant matures, it sends out stolons – creeping horizontal stems or runners that take root at points along their length to form new plants. In habitat, these stolons don’t rise to form above-ground stems, so only the rosettes are visible, emerging as clusters directly from the ground.

E. francoisii is allied with such well-known species as E. decaryi, E. capsaintmariensis and E. cylindriflora. It was described by Jacques Désiré Leandri in 1946 and named for E. Francois, owner of the farm near Fort Dauphin, Madagascar, from where the species is described. Although popular and widely available in cultivation, its native populations are currently threatened by habitat loss.

Varied Leaves and Flowers

One of the most fascinating features of this species is that it can grow a myriad of leaf colors and shapes. In fact, E. francoisii sports some of the most variable leaves in the plant kingdom. The colors can be anything from pale green to a dark green that is nearly black, pale pink to deep eggplant, yellow to white, variegated or multicolored, sometimes heavily veined, and sometimes with silver undersides. The colors also change through the seasons.

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Amazingly, these plants are all Euphorbia francoisii. Source: littleoneplantnursery.com.

Up to 3.2 inches long and 1.2 inches wide, leaf shapes can be oblong, lanceolate, spade-shaped, deltoid or lyre-shaped. Breeders continue to develop new leaf color patterns and leaf shapes in E. francoisii through selective breeding. Maple leaf, ivy and duck foot shapes are now available in addition to the naturally occurring shapes.

Not only can different plants have a wide variety of leaf shapes and colors, but a single plant can have leaf combinations. Even clones can have different leaves than their parents. The variety within the species is nearly boundless.

The ability to create such diverse leaves comes from the fact that E. francoisii are hexaploids, which means their genomes consist of six complete sets of chromosomes where only one is necessary, greatly increasing the genetic biodiversity of the species. Because of this, breeders have created a dazzling array of cultivars. Santiporn Sangchai of Thailand is particularly renowned for his extensive work with new cultivars.

E. francoisii can also be hybridized with other euphorbias, most notably E. tulearensis. This Madagascan dwarf euphorbia lends its tightly waved leaf edges to some E. francoisii hybrids.

With such spectacular leaf variation, it’s easy to overlook this plant’s small, simply shaped flowers. Here, too, breeders have improved upon E. francoisii’s natural shades of pale greenish-yellow to pinkish. Now the flowers may appear in vibrant red-pink, orange and nearly neon green, or with ombre effects that fade from green into pink. Some variegated flowers alternate from pale pink to chartreuse. E. francoisii blooms from late spring to early summer.

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Sculptural branches rising from shapely caudices make some E. francoisii specimens suitable for bonsai treatment. Photo by flickr.com user kitoi.

Caudex, Too

As if the dazzling array of leaves and delicately colored flowers wasn’t enough, E. francoisii can also grow a small caudex up to an inch in diameter. The caudex begins as a tuberous, napiform root. When the plant matures, these roots can be raised above the soil line to create a decorative, bonsai effect. The longer you wait to raise the caudex, the better. Eight to 12 years of growth is suggested, as the caudex will grow no larger once exposed.

In seed-raised plants, the caudex tends to be rounder and solitary or have only a few branches. However, in plants raised from cuttings, the roots are thinner and more heavily branched, eventually producing a tangled mass of many roots.

Adding to the bonsai effect, E. francoisii in cultivation grow branches above ground that can be erect, sprawling or procumbent. The branches twist gracefully in random shapes, making each plant a unique living sculpture.

Plant Care

E. francoisii prefers full sun to light shade and temperatures from 60 to 90 degrees F, making it a likely candidate for an indoor windowsill plant in our Midwestern climate. It can also do well outside during the milder portions of our summer.

Sources disagree on whether this species is highly drought-tolerant or not. However, most sources agree with the standard succulent watering regime of waiting for the soil to dry almost completely, then watering thoroughly. Similarly, sources agree with the usual succulent advice to water less in winter and avoid standing water at all times, as the roots are prone to fungal rot.

I thank HSCSS for introducing me to this delightful succulent through the Plant of the Month attendance prize. When I first began collecting, euphorbias were simply “not my thing,” but now this plant has become a treasured part of my collection. Thank you also to Kevin Romine for repotting from the nursery plastic to a lovely terracotta pot!

Sources:

Artisan Plantshttps://artisanplants.com/blogs/news/euphorbia-francoisii-the-ultimate-succulent-houseplant
https://artisanplants.com/products/euphorbia-francoisii-149?variant=40110009057357
Cactus Junglehttps://cactusjungle.com/plants/euphorbia-francoisii/
Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphorbia_francoisii
Britannicahttps://www.britannica.com/science/polyploidy
Nature – Polyploidy and its Effect on Evolutionary Success – https://www.nature.com/articles/hdy201279
Kyle’s Plantshttps://kylesplants.com/products/euphorbia-francoisii-x-tulearensis-dd
Llifle Encyclopedia of Succulentshttps://www.llifle.com/Encyclopedia/SUCCULENTS/Family/Euphorbiaceae/25173/Euphorbia_francoisii
Little One Plant Nurseryhttps://www.littleoneplantnursery.com
Plantemaniahttps://plantemania.net/gb/plants/2391-euphorbia-francoisii.html
Succulent Cityhttps://succulentcity.com/euphorbia-francoisii/
World of Succulentshttps://worldofsucculents.com/euphorbia-francoisii/