Euphorbias of Somalia (2008)

By Neal Bohlman (August 2008)

The euphorbias of Somalia are an extremely diverse and interesting group. They grow in some of the most harsh conditions we can find. It is these harsh conditions that make these some of the toughest of the succulent euphorbias to grow. We just cannot reproduce their environment. Our more humid and ideal conditions are just too nice, and the plants cannot handle it.

Before I get too far into this short piece, let me say that while I understand that the Ogaden and Sidamo regions are generally accepted as parts of Ethiopia, they are a border area and at times in dispute as to where they belong. For the purpose of this article, we will consider the plants of these border regions to be Somalian, as the plants there are clearly very closely related. The two that quickly come to mind are Euphorbia piscidermis and E. gymnocalycioides.

As I mentioned earlier, these plants are very diverse. At one end of the spectrum, E. rebecchii, a tree euphorbia, can attain a height of 45 feet or more. At the other end, we find the golf ball-like E. turbiniformis, piscidermis and gymnocalycioides, which grow to about 2 inches in diameter.

A great many of these plants are only seen grafted, as they have proven to be very difficult to grow on their own roots. They are also very slow-growing, and grafting speeds up the growth of these plants – although too quickly at times, in my opinion. But that is a topic for my other discussion.

One does not have to look very far to see similar evolution happening with these plants. The medusae-type plants of South Africa are very similar. We can see this in the club-shaped plants like E. schizacantha. All are reducing themselves to the ultimate succulent like E. turbiniformis in Somalia or E. obese in South Africa.

In Somalia, we can almost see an intermediate to this evolution in E. horwoodii. When originally found, this plant was described as subglobose. But in cultivation, it quickly branches like the club-shaped euphorbias, with branches or arms forming. One could speculate that this plant is right at the stage of becoming subglobose.

The euphorbias of Somalia have always been somewhat difficult to obtain, because the political climate has not been very friendly to the West. The Soviet Union was allied with the country through the Cold War era, and the political instability there now is not very friendly to the United States. This has made it difficult to obtain these rare plants for propagation, and their slow growth rate keeps what we have in short supply.

So, for those of you who have these strange and interesting plants, bring them out for everyone to see. I think we can have some fun with these interesting beauties.

According to Wikimedia Commons, here is a list of the euphorbias of Somalia:

  • Euphorbia abyssinica
  • Euphorbia actinoclada
  • Euphorbia balsamifera
  • Euphorbia bisellenbeckii
  • Euphorbia breviarticulata
  • Euphorbia columnaris
  • Euphorbia ellenbeckii
  • Euphorbia erigavensis
  • Euphorbia fascicaulis
  • Euphorbia galgalana
  • Euphorbia gillettii
  • Euphorbia glochidaiata
  • Euphorbia hadramautica
  • Euphorbia horwoodii
  • Euphorbia inculta
  • Euphorbia leontopoda
  • Euphorbia mitriformis
  • Euphorbia neoerubescens
  • Euphorbia nubigena
  • Euphorbia phillipsiae
  • Euphorbia phillipsioides
  • Euphorbia prona
  • Euphorbia scheffleri
  • Euphorbia spulta
  • Euphorbia zylacaantha