Friday, November 30, 2007

Euphorbia antisyphilitica

Euphorbia antisyphilitica

Euphorbia antisyphilitica, or Candelilla, is a Chihauhaun desert native that does well in USDA Zones 8-11. In addition to being used as a landscape plant, you may be surprised to learn that many common cosmetic, household, and art products contain Candelilla wax. The wax is found on the stems of the plant, and it acts to seal in and conserve moisture to help the plant get through drought conditions. According to folk lore, E. antisyphilitica cured venereal disease, hence its name. (Since all succulent Euphorbiaceae contain a very irritating latex sap, perhaps the cure was as bad as the disease!)

This plant tolerates alkaline soil, drought conditions, and excessive heat, so it does well in this region. In Phoenix, some afternoon shade makes for a more attractive plant. It is frost sensitive, so it should have some protection on the coldest days. In February, or after rains any time of the year, tiny white flowers with pink-red centers appear along the stem.

In west Texas and Mexico, E. antisyphilitica is harvested for its high quality wax. The dried stems are then used as fuel. In some areas of Mexico, over-harvesting of this plant has caused the E. antisyphilitica to become scarce there. For a very comprehensive view of the harvest of Candelilla wax, check out this University of Texas at Austin publication.

Next time you check out the ingredient list on lipsticks, face creams, crayons, gum, or car polish, more than likely, the list will include Candelilla wax.


mr_subjunctive said...

Huh. You suppose it would do well indoors?

MrBrownThumb said...

Thanks for mentioning the origins of the name. Learning where the Latin names originate has to be my second favorite aspect of growing plants.

When I saw the name of this one I was thinking "anti syphilis? Nah, that can't be." And sure enough it was.

kate said...

I like the look of this plant ... along with its name. I thought at first that the plant might have been used to prevent syphilis, but then I read that it was used as a cure.

Garden Wise Guy said...

I love the well researched tidbits you add.