ISSUE 97  |  Love Letter to the Houseplant

The New “It” Houseplant

November 11, 2013 2:00 PM

BY Erin Boyle

Move over, Fiddle Leaf Fig, there’s a new favorite houseplant in town and its name is the Pencil Cactus.

Lately we’ve been seeing Euphorbia tirucalli pop up everywhere: tucked into the backgrounds of photos on design blogs; in our Pinterest stream, and arriving by the truckload in Manhattan’s 28th Street flower district.  And with good reason; the Pencil Cactus owes its popularity both to its good looks and its hardiness.

Photographs by Erin Boyle.

Above: Photography shot with the Canon EOS 70D digital SLR camera, with Dual Pixel AF technology and built-in Wi-Fi.

Okay: So it’s not really a cactus. And it is mildly poisonous. But let’s put those details aside for the moment and admire the sculptural beauty together. 

The pencil cactus hails from Africa, but brought inside and given a sunny spot in which to bask, it can thrive on windowsills across the globe. We bought this 2-foot-tall beauty (shown basking on the windowsill at Francesca’s house in Brooklyn Heights) in the flower district but you can start smaller, if you want to make less of a commitment: a 4-inch Euphorbia tirucalli is $12 from Pernell Gerver. 

Treat the plant like a succulent (See: How To Stop Killing Your Indoor Succulents): err on the side of under-watering, repot every year or so as the plant grows, and you could end up with a 6-foot specimen to call your own. 

Above: With its spiky, architectural shape, the Pencil Cactus is a good foil for other plants. Texturally, it is going to look different from every other houseplant you own.

And you are not going to be able to kill it if you follow a few simple rules for care and maintenance. For best results, pot the pencil cactus in a well-draining, gritty soil. (A 4-quart bag of Organic Espoma Cactus Mix would be just right and is $12.04 on Amazon.) Water every two to three weeks in the summertime, and less frequently in the wintertime to avoid rot. 

Above: The Pencil Cactus is sometimes called Milkbush because of the milky stem latex that oozes from the plant when cut. Watch out: the latex is a skin and eye irritant, and all parts of the plant can be poisonous if ingested. But don’t let that deter you from bringing one home. If you suit up and protect yourself, you can even take cuttings and propagate tiny plant babies.

Not convinced the pencil cactus is for you? Browse our Houseplant Gallery.

Looking for something cute? See The World’s Most Adorable Houseplant.

Fig tree or die? See Considering the Fiddle Leaf Fig.