Euphorbia x martini
Updated: Jun 29, 2022
We started strategically planting Euphorbias in the garden when we heard that gophers do not like them, and we have plenty of gophers. Freshly planted, the seedlings are still vulnerable, but once established, we have seen gopher mounds near them yet the plants are unharmed. Better, they provide a little protection for other plants, a barrier, while adding unique texture and color in the garden when most other plants are still in winter dormancy. Don't call it E. x martinii (adding the second "i" at the end). If you enjoy martinis, you will remember this name. There are a number of references, including from author Roger Turner, who lists this species under E. x martinii in this book, Euphorbias: A Gardener's Guide (p. 131). You will need to decide for yourself the best record.
Euphorbias have an amazing array of characteristics within the genus. For example, E. tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' has few leaves looking very much like glowing orange sticks, and E. poissonii holds its leaves at the top of spiny stems looking like abstract miniature palm trees. Less we forget the ever popular poinsettias, or E. pulcherrima. E. x martini and similar Euphorbias, by contrast, maintain their leaves and look lush in the landscape, offering a contrasting color and flower in any perennial garden.
Most if not all Euphorbias produce a harmful milky sap, hence the main reason why gophers do not appreciate them. Landscapers might not appreciate them as well; when pruning, the sap can be prolific, dripping on clothes, skin, secateurs, and everything else if one is not careful. Doctors recommend wearing protective eyewear to avoid injury. After pruning, everything that has come into contact with the sap should be washed. For E. x martini and similar forms, this problem should be considered when designing with them. After pruning, plants can look less attractive, so grouping with other attractive plants will distract attention while E. x martini recovers. Turner notes that E. x martini, or in this case, martinii, has biennial stems, meaning they will flower one year and dying the second. This would be critical information for their care, suggesting limbs should be fully removed after blooming.
Gopher aversion is not the only advantage to planting this species. The flowers, or rather, their bracts, last a long, long time, lending themselves to a long bloom period and even as cut flowers. The actual flowers are tiny and deep red/maroon, and their color contrasts with the chartreuse bracts. This makes E. x martini a wonderful compliment to other colors; I am particularly partial to deep purples to magenta, but do not rely just on my preferences...experiment! Shown below in the photo collection is one that had not been pruned after the flowering had finished, leaving the bracts that turned a dusty rose, complimenting the red stems. The same plant has finally been pruned, and the photos below represent its before/after appearance.
...deep red dicentras, Berberis thunbergii 'Atropurpurea Nana' and red geums, with a foreground of purple clover Trifolium pentaphyllum 'Purpurescens Quadrifolium,' Bergenia cordifolia 'Purperea' or Saxifraga 'Peter Pan.'
~ Roger Turner
Note: italics added by TELCS
Botanical Name: Euphorbia x martini
Euphorbia: Honoree, Euphorbus, physician to Juba II, King of Numidia and Mauretania
x: Natural crossbreeding between Euphorbia amygdaloides with Euphorbia characias
Martini: Unknown at time of posting. A derivative of Mauretania?
Common Name: Mediterranean spurge; Martin's spurge
Family Name: Euphorbiaceae
Origin: Parentage from Europe, Mediterranean region
Positioning: Middle ground, paired with plants that can take over once E. x martini is pruned.
Garden Themes: Mediterranean/drought, perennial, rock, courtyard/patio
Uses: Cut flower, border, small mass, container
Type: Evergreen perennial
Form: Round, mound becoming upright when blooming
Size: 2' tall and wide, 3' when in bloom
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower bracts
Stems: Red, intensifying in winter
Shape: Lanceolate, linear, obovate, spatulate
Color: Medium to light green, may be tinged red
Flower: Late winter to Spring. Dark red to brown, tiny; bracts, chartreuse, showy but still small. Terminal cyme with dozens of individual bracketed flowers, also showy. Bracts will dry to a dusty rose and still usable in arrangements.
Fruit: Not observed at time of posting.
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 3-24
USDA Zones: 6-11
Light: Full sun to light shade
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Low
Texture: Sand, loam, rocky
Moisture Retention: Well-drained
pH: Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline
Tolerances: Drought, heat, deer, , rabbits, gophers
Problems: Moderate toxicity from sap may cause rash, or if in contact with eye, stinging or temporary blindness
Branch Strength: N/A
Insects: Not observed at time of posting.
Disease: Not observed at time of posting.
citations & attributions
Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. "Euphorbia x martini." North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Accessed on July 31, 2021, from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/euphorbia-x-martini/.
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
Plant Finder. "Euphorbia x martinii 'Ascot Rainbow'." Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. Accessed on August 1, 2021, from https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=364042&isprofile=0&.
Turner, R. (1995). Euphorbias: A Gardener's Guide. Portland, Timber Press, Inc.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on July 27, 2021.
All photos by TELCS.