The African milk tree is as fascinating as it is beautiful. But the best part is? They’re as easy to care for as any other succulent.
Follow this ultimate care guide and learn how to give your African milk tree a long, happy life.
Table of Contents
African Milk Tree Plant Background
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Native to the hot climate of central Africa, the African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona) is quite a unique member of the succulent family. Due to its resemblance to a cactus, the African milk tree has a variety of nicknames including: the candelabra cactus, the cathedral cactus, the friendship cactus, and the good luck cactus.
Despite all these cactus-related nicknames, the African milk tree is not a true cactus.
A rapid grower, the African milk tree grows in a hedge-like formation. Its stems are triangle-shaped with three distinct sides.
The edges of these stems have thorns and leaves that are teardrop-shaped. The African milk tree is bright green throughout its entire body, though the Euphorbia trigona also has a red-hued cultivar named the Rubra.
The African milk tree is a tall, fast-growing succulent. At their full maturity, the African milk tree will grow to a height of 9 feet tall, though many indoor plant owners cut back the size significantly.
The milky sap that secretes from the African milk tree can cause severe side-effects when it comes in contact with both humans and animals. Skin and eye contact causes irritation; if swallowed, the sap can cause convulsions.
It is recommended to exercise extreme caution when keeping this plant around pets and children. In addition, plant owners are advised to wear protective equipment when handling these plants.
African Milk Tree Plant Care Tips
Sun & Light
When it comes to milk tree care, these plants prefer a full day’s worth of bright, indirect light. You can place your plant in an indoor location with direct sunlight, as long as the temperature is not consistently hot to ensure they are growing at a healthy rate.
When you go to plant african milk plants, it is important to know that they are not picky about what soil they live in. It is also important to note that the most vital part of the plant care is to select a soil with good drainage.
Examples of this include sandy, loamy soil, or something with perlite mixed in. Avoid heavy clay soils, as these tend to trap too much moisture. The ideal pH range for this soil is between 6.1 and 7.8, which is soil that is around the slightly acidic to neutral range.
As a succulent, the African milk tree is a drought-tolerant plant and withstand moderate periods of time without receiving water. Allow the soil to dry out completely in between each time you water to encourage healthy growth.
Fertilization should be done when your African milk tree plants enter the active growing period (spring and summer). Select a balanced, half-diluted fertilizer and apply it to your plant every month is part of proper plant care food for these plants. Cease fertilizing your plant during the fall and winter; this is when your plant will enter its dormancy period.
Temperature & Humidity
Try to replicate your plant’s natural habitat by maintaining a warm, dry environment for your milk tree. Aim for a temperature range between 70° and 85° F in the home. Avoid placing your plant in cold areas of the home such as near a drafty window or an air conditioning vent.
Monitor your home’s humidity level to ensure that the air is dry enough for your plant’s comfort, typically no more than 50% humid in the room where your milk tree lives. Too high of humidity can make your plant susceptible to pest infestations and decrease the chances of healthy growth.
Pruning & Maintenance
The African milk plant is a tall plant (mature specimens can grow up to 9 feet tall), and can become top-heavy if left unkempt. When pruning an African milk tree, it is a necessity to wear protective gloves, because the milky sap from the plant can cause skin irritation.
Using a sharp, sterile knife, cut into your succulent to create a balanced shape; try to avoid making one side heavier than the other to avoid toppling over. The cut will dry out and callous over on its own and grow back to normal, so don’t worry about leaving an open cut on your plant.
Choosing a Container & Repotting
Because they are succulents, it is very important to select plant pots that have ample drainage after you water it. Your plant pot should have at least one drainage hole to allow for excess water to pass through, leaving your plant comfortably moist, but not too wet in the pot.
In addition, it is recommended to select a planter that is made from unglazed ceramic or terra cotta. These materials are incredibly porous and absorb the excess water that does not exit the drainage hole.
You’ll have to repot your African milk bush plants in a new pot around once every 1 to 2 years due to the amount of growth it will experience. When repotting, make sure to wear protective gloves, to avoid accidental irritation.
When looking for a new plant pot, search for a pot or planters that are slightly larger than the previous one to give ample room for your plant to grow and have enough drainage for excess water.
How to Propagate African Milk Trees
Similar to many other succulents, you can propagate your African milk tree easily via stem cuttings. Follow these steps to propagate your African milk tree:
- Prepare for propagating by putting on thick protective gloves. You’ll be cutting into your plant, which causes it to release a milky sap. This sap is known to cause skin irritation.
- Take a sharp, sterile knife and cut off a branch from the bottom of the tree.
- Rinse the branch under cold water; this will cauterize the branch and stop it from oozing.
- Next, you’ll have to allow the cut-end to callous over. Place the branch in a dry location that does not receive direct sun rays; let it sit there for about a week until the cut-end callouses.
- Prepare a pot filled with moistened, well-draining soil.
- Transfer your branch into the soil, making sure that the branch is upright.
- Place the plant in a location that is warm and bright.
- It typically takes two months for the cutting to become established and grow roots. After two months, you can transfer your cutting into a slightly larger container with fresh soil, water accordingly and enjoy watching your cutting thrive and grow!
Maintaining your plant’s health is an important method of preventing pest infestations. As long as your plant is healthy and lives in a warm, dry environment, you should not have any problem with pests. However, sometimes pests do attack African milk trees that live in humid conditions.
The most common pests are mealybugs, which enjoy infesting the African milk tree. While finding mealybugs can be a nuisance to you, there are easy steps you can take to rid your plant of them.
Mealybugs leave a cotton-like residue grow on the foliage of your plant. This cotton residue can easy be cleared up by wiping your plant with rubbing alcohol.
If you notice bugs on your plant, a common solution is to spray them with neem oil (which you should always keep in stock.) Neem oil is a natural pesticide that will swiftly kill the pests without harming your plant in the process.
If your plant has sustained any damage to their foliage due to pest infestation, it is best to immediately prune any signs of damage. Wrap these plant clippings in a plastic bag and throw them away in the garbage. Do not toss them into a compost bin, or else residual disease or pests might contaminate your compost and your other outdoor plants.
Many diseases that affect the African milk tree plant stem from improper watering techniques. The two most notable diseases that affect this plant are cork disease and root rot.
Cork disease gets its name from the dry cork-like spots that riddle an affected milk tree. This disease can spread and grow easily in plants and affect its further growing potential, so the best control method is to cut off any infected stems and throw them away.
Root rot is the result of too much moisture combined with a lack of adequate water drainage. This trapped moisture causes the roots of the milk tree to break down and rot, causing your plant to die. Fortunately, root rot can be treated on your plant with these easy steps:
- Put on your protective gloves and gently remove your plant from its pot. Inspect the roots; rotted roots are black in color and have a mushy texture.
- Using a sterile pair of scissors, cut away any signs of rot.
- Repot your plant in a sterilized, well-draining pot with appropriate soil.
- Continue to care for your African milk tree by maintaining a dry, warm environment, adding water only when the potting mix has dried.
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The African milk tree plant is very poisonous, and direct contact with its sap should be avoided. Skin and eye contact can cause severe irritation, whereas ingesting the sap is known to cause convulsions.
While the African milk tree looks like a cactus, it is not actually a cactus, but rather a succulent (or euphorbia). While all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. A cactus is a very specific group of succulents that are identified as having an areole, which is a small nodule that contains small hairs and/or needles.
The African milk plants do not have these areoles, therefore is not a cactus.
African milk tree light requires at least four hours of indirect sunlight every day will keep your African milk tree happy and healthy. If you do put it in direct sunlight, you may need to water it a little more often to keep it from completely drying out.
The African milk tree is a rare and unique houseplant, but doesn’t mean that they are difficult to care for. When given the proper environment, they are just as easy and enjoyable as any other succulent and bring great beauty to your home or garden!
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