Characteristics of Smoketree Spurge Plant (Euphorbia cotinifolia) in the Wild

Euphorbia cotinifolia
Smoketree Spurge or Caribbean Copper (Euphorbia cotinifolia) is a type of broad, red-leaved tree native to Mexico and South America.

Smoketree Spurge is famous in Central America, where its poisonous sap has been used both as medicine and poison. As a medicine, it has been used in folk medicine as an emetic and cathartic agent. Fishermen have been known to add sap to the water at fishing grounds to stun fish and force them to float upward. It was also historically used as a poison for arrowheads by the natives of Curaçao.

WARNING: The effects of the sap may irritate if they come in contact with human skin or eyes. If swallowed, the sap can cause severe damage to internal organs.


Characteristics of Smoketree Spurge Leaf

Euphorbia cotinifolia Leaf
Source: García Casanova

The leaves appear in three circles at the knot. The shape is round, triangular to wide oval, 4-14 cm long, and 2-7 cm wide with a striking red color.


Characteristics of Smoketree Spurge Flower

Euphorbia cotinifolia Flower

The flowers are small white which blooms at the tips of branches in summer.


Characteristics of Smoketree Spurge Plant

Euphorbia cotinifolia Tree
Source: Sheila

This tree is generally found 3-5 meters tall but it can grow up to 9 meters tall. The trunk is often thickened in a bottle at the bottom and is covered with eucalyptus bark when old.

Smoketree Spurge is usually grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and pots, because of its bright red and distinctive leaf color. The tree prefers well-drained soil and full sun. Although relatively hardy, the tree cannot tolerate strong winds, salt, or frost.

INFORMATION: There are two types of Smoketree Spurge, the first one with green leaves (Euphorbia cotinifolia subsp. cotinifolia) and the second one with bright red leaves (Euphorbia cotinifolia subsp. cotinoides). The green leaf type is a wild plant that is not cultivated, while the red leaf is a popular ornamental plant around the world, especially in tropical climates.

In the wild, this tree grows in the Amazon to Suriname at an altitude between 0 and 500 m above sea level. According to the botanist R. Govaerts, this subspecies originally came from Mexico and Trinidad to Peru.


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