By: Stuart Merelie
THERE IS an old saying that says “Civilised man has marched across the face of the earth and left a desert in his footprints”.
Today, worldwide, on land once rich with natural vegetation, we see deserts denuded of their topsoil, deserts of calcium encrusted soil from years of irrigation, deserts due to widespread deforestation having altered the regional climate. And, these areas, dear readers, are all visible in the Algarve, especially south of the EN125 main road.
I was fortunate to head north, between São Bras de Alportel and Tavira, and turn off at a sign that says “Morenos”. Follow this road and you will undoubtedly have your breath taken away by flowing rivers, verdant vegetable gardens, partridges boldly owning the roads and a feeling of care and control, of limited exploitation or rape of the local soils and supplies. It would be a very rich man that would live in such a simple and perfect valley and, unfortunately for the majority of us, it is only a day out (take a picnic but don’t worry about the medronho, plenty around here.)
So, if we can’t all live there, then we have to address the problems of gardening in a limited area, with artificial conditions. One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, do you have a plant that requires no attention, stays in flower all year, requires very little water and is left alone by rabbits and bugs? Look no further than the Euphorbia milii.
The crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii) has long been for sale, mainly to collectors. There is, however, reason for renewed interest in this plant at a time when an emphasis is being placed on water conservation and ease of maintenance. In addition, the recent development of more attractive, compact varieties in a range of colours, presents landscapers with an ideal subject for use as a salt and drought tolerant groundcover.
The genus Euphorbia is part of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae) and comprises some 2000 species of diverse plants from annuals to trees, and is cosmopolitan in its worldwide distribution. One other member of the genus that is popular in Algarve landscapes is the Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima.
E. milii is native to Madagascar and is classified as a succulent, a plant with thick fleshy leaves and stems adapted for water storage. The stems are five to seven sided, greyish brown, branched and can grow up to 60 or 70 centimetres in height, with many prominent grey two centimetre spines. The leaves tend to be obovate (wider near the tip), up to 11 inches in length. They have a smooth edge, are spirally arranged on the stem, and range from bright green to greyish green. Foliage is produced on new stem growth.
The cyathia (flowers) are borne in clusters (cymes) and each cyathium is subtended by two colourful bracts, either red or yellow. Plants stay in flower year round, but are at their best in dry, sunny weather. As with other euphorbs, E. milii produces copious quantities of poisonous milky sap that can cause skin irritation, and contains tumour promoting chemicals (diterpene esters). It would be best to wear gloves when handling the plants, and to wash off any sap that gets on your skin. The numerous spines on the plant should be sufficient warning to handle with care!
Of the vast range of Euphorbias, QM stocks 27 different species, many growing at their best around our botanical cactus garden.
All three plants mentioned in the article are available at QM Garden Centre and readers are invited to visit. The new pot display area and palm display areas are now finished and regulars will be pleased to learn there is now a new shade area with seating for an ice cream after a round on the award winning crazy golf course. The gallery now stocks a range of high quality wines at reasonable prices and free wine tasting is available on request.
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