What Is So Unique About the Candelabra Tree?
The candelabra tree (Euphorbia ingens) is a spiny tree native to Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique. This plant prefers dry climates, similar to those for cacti and other succulent plants, as well as large amounts of sun. This plant can be grown both in its natural habitat and indoors, and it has some unique features.
The candelabra tree is named for its unusual appearance. This tall succulent produces flat, rounded leaves along the length of its curved branches. These winglike leaves grow on all four sides of each branch. The branches themselves curve out and upward from a central trunk, resulting in a candelabra or Menorahlike appearance. Young candelabra trees are relatively straight in appearance, developing branches as they age.
In the wild, Euphorbia ingens grows to anywhere between 20 and 30 feet in height, with older specimens usually reaching a large size. Captive candelabra trees are usually smaller. These low-maintenance plants grow relatively slowly. However, pruning them is inadvisable, as they contain a toxic milky latex that can irritate the skin or cause illness if swallowed. If you must prune or move a candelabra tree, wear gloves and handle the branches as little as possible.
The candelabra tree makes a good indoor plant or outdoor landscaping plant in appropriate climates, but only when children or pets cannot reach it. This plant's unique toxic sap can pose a serious health risk to dogs, cats, browsing animals and children. According to PlantZAfrica, this sap is used to poison fish in South Africa and Zimbabwe and can severely injure cattle driven through a cluster of the plants.
Despite this tree's toxic sap, succulent leaves and thorns, it is often used as a source of wood in Zululand and other parts of its native range. Harvesters set a fire around the tree to set the sap inside before cutting it down. Wood from the main trunk is durable but light and can be used to make boats, doors and lumber. Birds and monkeys eat the fruit and seeds, while cane rats and porcupines sometimes feed on the roots. Native cultures use this tree as a purgative, wart treatment and cancer treatment.