Today in Key West: 'White Ghost' Euphorbia Revisited

Two years ago, I introduced this White Ghost euphorbia, which was thriving in the delightful Martello Tower garden in Key West. In the tropics, plants grow so quickly that a gap of two years there is like a decade or two in New England. Mindful of the devastating hurricanes since, I was anxious that this singular succulent might have been crushed or, simply, swept away.


But no. Here it is, in the pink literally: Tips of the newest growth—spines, tiny paddle-shaped ephemeral leaves, and all the stem surfaces—are shiny, solid pink. What with the non-reflective milk-of-magnesia whiteness of the more mature stems, Euphorbia lactea 'White Ghost' bristles with otherwordly appeal.

Euphorbia lactea White Ghost tips 030818 915


But pink? Two years ago, all its young growth was tan. There wasn't a drop of pink in sight. Then again, that "new" growth was already of near-mature size. Had it been pink as a baby, tan in adolescence, and milky white in adulthood? As Alice remarked in Wonderland, "Curiouser and curiouser."


Further, had the growing season two years ago been so advanced that new growth then had already matured to adolescence while, at the same time this year, it was still just pink tips? Or, looking through the other end of the telescope, has this growing season been so delayed that, by early March of this year, new growth had just barely begun?


And what about the storms of this past fall? They were devastating to Keys farther north, but "only" felled trees in Key West. Even so, their chill, torrential rains, flooding, high winds, and salt spray had to have some effect even on plants that survived well.


Below, this same euphorbia overall. Two years ago, it was an upright but comparatively open tower three to four feet high. Now, it's a thick, dense, leaning medusa several times as large. 


Euphorbia lactea White Ghost overall 030818 915 


Is the Tower of Piza tilt the result of age exascerbating an already irregular habit formed of very heavy growth? Or, did the hundred-mile-per-hour winds from the fall storms weaken this large and top-heavy plant's grip down into the sandy, rocky soil?


Likely, it's both. And as with most succulents, leaning and even tumbling over isn't bad news: Any segments that come into stable contact with soil put out roots and begin developing with the vigor of fresh new plants; as long as the growth remained upright, it could rely only on its original (if still enlarging) root system for support. With Euphorbia lactea, then, storm-induced sideways sag is likely to be frequent.


I may be fortunate enough to spend even more time in Key West, so I'd be able to follow this succulent not just year to year at about the same time, but over a longer period each year. Then, I might be able to clarify what hues new growth normally adopts as it matures. Plus, this year I'll also welcome a young White Ghost to my collection of container specimens here in New England. 


In another year or two, then, I should be able to profile White Ghost definitively, as both a garden shrub growing in a hot, frost-free climate, and as a potted plant that enjoys the tolerably warm weather of late spring into early fall in New England before being sheltered in the greenhouse. 




Here's this remarkable succulent just two years ago. It seems a quarter the size this specimen is now.


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