In spring the cushion spurge is a welcome, early splash of sunshine with its vivid citron color. It forms a tidy mound, perfect for the front of a garden. Like its relative the poinsettia, the cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) produces 1-inch bracts (not flowers) that provide stunning spring color. In summer the foliage and bracts are soft green, and in the fall they're a mix of soft shades of red, orange, and yellow. The cushion spurge is drought-tolerant and can survive in rocky and sandy soils. It originated in Turkey, Central Europe, and the Ukraine.
Common name: Cushion spurge
Botanical name: Euphorbia polychroma (syn. E. epithymoides)
Zone hardiness: 4 to 8
Plant type: herbaceous perennial
Height and width: 16 inches tall and 24 inches wide
• Sun: Full sun, except in warmer climates where afternoon shade is helpful
• Soil: Average well-drained, light soil is best. It may rot in heavy clay soil.
• Moisture: Moderate to dry
• Mulch: None needed
• Fertilizer: None required
• Pruning: Cut back in fall.
• Sow seeds in containers in spring.
• Divide in spring.
• Take cuttings in early summer.
Pests and diseases:
• Aphids, mealy bugs, and spider mites are possible.
• Use cushion spurge in border plantings or rock gardens, but locate carefully because it doesn't respond well to frequent moving.
• Cushion spurge is long lived in north, but shorter lived in the South.
• Clumps of cushion spurge lose their cushion shape and become leggy and open when planted in warmer climates or in shady sites.
• Most species of spurge have a milky sap that can irritate skin. Wear gloves when handling them to avoid skin irritation.
• If you use cushion spurge in a cut-flower arrangement, sear the bottom of the stem before adding it to the flower arrangement.
• ‘Candy' has purplish new tips in spring, sulfur yellow flowers, and narrow, curvy-edged leaves with a blue tint. Like the species, it's a tidy, low-growing mound. It's 16 inches tall like the species.
• ‘Emerald Jade' has bright green bracts that are colorful into the fall. It reaches 14 inches tall and 18 inches wide.
All in the family
• The family of Euphorbiaceae includes herbs, shrubs, and trees growing throughout the world. The most familiar ones to gardeners living in North American are in the genus Euphorbia. There are about 2,000 species of Euphorbia ranging from treelike succulents more than 65 feet tall to short ground covers. Euphorbia canariensis, for example, is a treelike succulent with bright green stems and thorns. It grows 25 to 40 feet tall, is native to the Canary Islands, and requires a minimum temperature of 54°F. Euphorbia myrsinites (Myrtle sprurge) is an evergreen perennial with succulent leaves. It grows just 4 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and is hardy in Zones 5 to 8.
• It's also a family with species that go from wonderful to weedy. Euphorbia pulcherrima is the botanical name for the poinsettia, which is also an attractive perennial in areas that stay above 55°F degrees. Euphorbia esula (leafy spurge), on the other hand, is weedy and listed as an invasive species. It really helps to know botanical names for a family like this!