A tree per­fect for twins


Photo: Someleza Mgcuwa Name: Euphor­bia tri­an­gu­laris Desf. Fam­ily: Euphor­biaceae (Spurge fam­ily) Com­mon names: Engl. Chan­de­lier Tree, River Euphor­bia, Tree Euphor­bia Afr. Driehoek-melk­bos, Na­boom, Noors­dor­ing, Riviern­a­boom, Xho. Umhlontlo


A spiny, suc­cu­lent, can­de­labra-shaped tree up to 18m. Trunk: cylin­dri­cal with traces of four an­gles, some­times de­vel­op­ing two or more stem­like branches, each bear­ing a rounded crown of up­ward­curv­ing branch­lets 1,5-2,5m long. Branch­lets: usu­ally 3-an­gled, con­stricted, form­ing seg­ments with par­al­lel sides, 7-530cm long, yel­low­ish green; mar­gin sin­u­ate, with or with­out tu­ber­cles.

Spines: slen­der, in­con­spic­u­ous, brown to grey, di­verg­ing; spine shields sep­a­rate, or form­ing a con­tin­u­ous horny ridge along the mar­gin. In­flo­res­cence: green­ish yel­low; cythia in 2-3 ver­ti­cal cymes (June). Fruit: a some­what rounded, 3-lobed cap­sule, with a dis­tinct curved stalk (July).

Con­ser­va­tion sta­tus

Ac­cord­ing to the SANBI (South African Na­tional Bio­di­ver­sity In­sti­tute) Red list of South African Plants, Euphor­bia tri­an­gu­laris was not se­lected in any one of four screening pro­cesses for high­light­ing po­ten­tial of con­ser­va­tion con­cern for de­tailed as­sess­ment and was hence given an au­to­mated sta­tus of Least Con­cern (LC) http://redlist.sanbi.org

Dis­tri­bu­tion and habi­tat

Euphor­bia tri­an­gu­laris is of­ten found in arid coun­try, on rocky hill­sides and river val­leys, and along tidal rivers, al­most reach­ing the wa­ter’s edge. Pro­vin­cial dis­tri­bu­tion: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

Deriva­tion of name and his­tor­i­cal as­pects

The com­mon name “spurge” de­rives from the Mid­dle English/Old French spurge (“to purge”), due to the use of the plant’s sap as a purga­tive. Euphor­bia de­rives from Euphor­bus, the Greek physi­cian of King Juba II of Nu­midia (52-50BC-23AD), who mar­ried the daugh­ter of An­thony and Cleopa­tra. Learn about our nat­u­ral her­itage and the links be­tween cul­tural and bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity

Juba was a pro­lific writer on var­i­ous sub­jects, in­clud­ing nat­u­ral his­tory. Euphor­bus wrote one of the cac­tus-like euphor­bia (now called Euphor­bia ob­tusi­fo­lia ssp. reg­isjubae) was used as a pow­er­ful lax­a­tive. In 12 BC, Juba named this plant af­ter his physi­cian Euphor­bus.

In 1753, botanist and tax­onomist Carl Lin­naeus as­signed the name Euphor­bia to the en­tire genus in the physi­cian’s honor. Tri­an­gu­laris means tree an­gled.

Uses and cul­tural as­pects

A spe­cial re­la­tion­ship is be­lieved to ex­ist be­tween twins and many Euphor­bia species, in­clud­ing this one. The Xhosa peo­ple in some ar­eas be­lieve that if twins are born, the fa­ther must go into the veld and bring back two of th­ese trees and plant them, side by side, in front of the home.

The growth of th­ese Euphor­bia is sup­posed to co­in­cide with the growth of the twins. If the twins are of the same size the trees grow an equal height; if one of the twins is short in stature his tree will like­wise be stunted. In the same way th­ese in­di­cate the state of health of the twins.

If one of trees with­ers or is in dan­ger of dy­ing, peo­ple in­fer that its owner too is ill; and even if the owner is away from home, his rel­a­tives will know that he is prob­a­bly ill. In the event of one twin dy­ing his or her euphor­bia tree is re­moved.

It is said that the trees are dif­fer­en­ti­ated at the out­set in that the first planted rep­re­sents the first born twin and the sec­ond rep­re­sents the sec­ond twin.

When the twins be­come sick, the roots of their spe­cific euphor­bia tree are pre­pared and used as a body wash. Should ei­ther of the twins die, so would their euphor­bia trees. In case of triplets, three euphor­bia trees are planted.

In case of re­lo­cat­ing, great care is taken to avoid dam­age to the trees. They should not “bleed” (that is, be­come dam­aged and re­lease milky sap) for fear of en­dan­ger­ing the lives of the twins with whom they are sym­bol­i­cally iden­ti­fied.

When col­lect­ing the young trees the fa­ther of twins places white beads in each of the holes from which the plants were taken, to ap­pease the an­ces­tors.

The af­ter­birth is buried next to the euphor­bia trees and the um­bil­i­cal cords are plas­tered on the hut. Soon af­ter the birth the twins are washed in an in­fu­sion of the crushed euphor­bia roots to en­sure their health. Even when they are adults they will travel great dis­tances to wash be­side their euphor­bia trees.

If a leaf of one of the trees is dam­aged ac­ci­den­tally, two white beads must be placed at the base of the dam­aged tree to ward off evil con­se­quences to one of the twins. Even if the home has been aban­doned the trees are left un­touched. The cus­tom has been ob­served for hun­dreds of years and car­ries great sig­nif­i­cance. The same be­lief is held re­gard­ing E. tetrag­ona and E. gran­di­dens.

How to cul­ti­vate a Euphor­bia plant

As a gen­eral rule, spurge re­quires well-drained soil in full sun. A few tol­er­ate shadier con­di­tions, but none of the fam­ily are fussy about soil con­di­tions. They even thrive in very poor soils and can tol­er­ate pe­ri­ods of drought. Euphor­bia plant care is sim­ple. Pro­vide them light, mod­er­ate mois­ture and watch for an­noy­ing pests, like white­fly.

Pro­vide wa­ter un­der the plant’s leaves to pre­vent wa­ter-sol­u­ble plant food. Prune when the plant gets out of con­trol.

Th­ese plants are al­most im­pos­si­ble to kill and are a per­fect choice for the novice gar­dener. Grow­ing euphor­bia to share with a friend is also a great be­gin­ner prop­a­ga­tion project. Read fur­ther: http://bit.ly/2vOhCaV

• Someleze Mgcuwa is a plant digi­tiser for the Ka­roo Bio gaps project, based in the Schon­land Her­bar­ium.

Euphor­bia tri­an­gu­laris.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.