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A close-up image of green pencil cactus branches on a black background with the white text ‘Pencil Cactus’ in the center.

Plant Life: Pencil Cactus

| Rosie Jeffares-Levitt

If you’re looking for a fast-growing houseplant that makes a statement, you’ve found it!

The pencil cactus is a gorgeous ornamental plant. And in early summer you’ll get a lovely surprise of little yellow flowers at the end of the pencil-like branches. The pencil cactus is native to Africa and goes by many common names. You may know it as "milk bush", "firestick", or even "naked lady".

It's an easy houseplant which makes it an ideal choice for people who tend to forget that plants need care! Provide for its basic needs (direct light & occasional watering) and it will flourish. Pencil cactus prefer to grow in full sun, although they can handle some shade. Place it by your brightest window and protect it from cold drafts. Mimic its natural environment with warmth and low humidity.

Despite its name, the pencil cactus is actually a succulent and not a cactus. Like all succulents, they are great at storing water in their leaves so be careful not to overwater. During the summer water every 2 to 3 weeks; in the colder months only about once a month. In ideal conditions, it can grow up to 6 feet tall in a pot. If you travel a lot this is the perfect plant for you: low-maintenance, fast-growing, and pest-resistant.

Part of the euphorbia family, the pencil cactus has a milky white sap (ergo its name milk bush) that oozes when the plant is cut or snapped. The sap is poisonous latex and can be fatal if ingested. You'll want to keep it out of reach of children and pets. Take care when repotting, propagating and handling your plant. The sap is a strong irritant if it comes in contact with your skin or eyes – hence its nickname firestick!

So what about the nickname "naked lady"? Well, that comes from the tiny leaves on its pencil-like branches that tend to fall off. You can look but don't touch – that sap is not lady-like and will definitely burn!

• Rosie, owner Quince Flowers

Animage of green pencil cactus branches on a black background with the white text ‘Pencil Cactus’ in the center. Order online for event items from the best florist in Toronto near you
Tags: Plant Life

Botanical Blog

Written By: Rosie Jeffares-Levitt

A collection of blog posts written by one of Toronto's top florists. With two on-going blog series, the first about flowers called Behind The Bloom & the second about plants called Plant Life.