Euphorbia nematocypha add fire to the herbaceous planting scheme

by Ciaran Burke

Euphorbia nematocypha – foliage close up

Sulphur yellow flowers, bushy growth, intense autumn colour and bright red stems. Hardy too. This is Euphorbia nematocypha, a superb spurge for Irish gardens.

Each spring the strong upright growth of the red stems is topped with bright yellow flowers and bracts. The flowers last well into summer and give a fantastic display but the highlight is the autumn show. The green leaves turn to burning orange and red over many weeks through October and early November. Today in our garden, under low and moody grey skies it is luminous. As the leaves start to fall, the bright red stems are exposed, an added bonus to be admired into winter.

Euphorbia nematocypha -plant in our front garden showing autumn tints

The plant is perfectly hardy, I had it in my garden when I lived in Dublin and took the plant with me when I moved to Mayo nine and a half years ago. Here it has thrived, happy in all weather in its sandy soil home. Unbothered by any pest, ignored by diseases, never watered, never fed but never neglected, it thrives with only a cutting back in late winter to tidy the way for new growth to emerge in spring.


Euphorbia nematocypha – foliage and stems close-up

I remember the November night I first acquired this plant. I had had a few ciders. Not the usual circumstances for purchasing a plant. It was in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth, the occasion was the Alpine Garden Society Dublin Group Annual weekend. Two days of fabulous lectures, plant sales and on the Saturday night, the after dinner auction. Held when we all had finished wine with dinner and enjoying drinks from the bar.

I out bid my rivals for a bedraggled plant recently lifted from a members garden, purchased on a verbal description and an auctioneers praise, I think I paid ten pounds. The donor of the plant said to me afterwards that if he had known I wanted the plant he would have dug some from his garden for me for free. The auction money goes to the society so it was for a good cause.

The Euphorbia nematocypha at that time, I think it was 1998, was a very recent introduction from China. Only in 1994 had seed been collected on the Alpine Garden Society China Expedition (ACE). To raise funds for the expedition, members of this English based society, bought shares which entitled them to a quantity of seed collected on the expedition.  The plant which I bought in the auction was one of the fruits of this trip.

Euphorbia nematocypha


Seed was collected from plants growing on the Zhongdian Plateau, where it grows with Iris bulleyana. In June 1996 the AGS quarterly bulletin was dedicated to the expedition, it was filled with reports and information about the plants collected. Two different collection numbers E.nematocypha ACE 292 and ACE 412 are referenced. I do not know from which number collection my plant is from, the original hand written label accompanying the auctioned plant is lost. In the bulletin the writer, Elizabeth Strangman, recommends this as a plant that has “a lot going for it”. 16 years later I can say that I certainly agree, it is one of my favourite plants in our garden.

Euphorbia nematocypha with Libertia and Beschoneria yucciodes in our front garden a few years ago…The Beschorneria died during the winter 2010 – 2011

9 Comments to “Euphorbia nematocypha add fire to the herbaceous planting scheme”

  1. Gorgeous! i have euphorbia rudolph and it’s beautiful most months of the year.

  2. We are Euphoric about Euphorbia! There are so many different kinds which hardly look alike. Your’s will look great in the backyard! Will need to add it to the list…

  3. Hi Ciaran Was at your course in Castlebar earlier in the year which I really enjoyed. Any chance of a piece of the Euphorbia? Would love to try it to brighten up my garden. Thanks Mary Munroe

  4. Great – what’s the latest time of the year it can be planted?

  5. Hi Ciaran, Just written a post about Euphorbias. These are lovely.

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