Euphorbia tirucalli (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Euphorbia tirucalli L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 452 (1753).


  • Euphorbia rhipsaloides Lem. (1857),
  • Euphorbia media N.E.Br. (1911),
  • Euphorbia scoparia N.E.Br. (1911).

Vernacular names

  • Finger tree, pencil tree, rubber euphorbia (En).
  • Euphorbe effilé, tirucalli (Fr)
  • Indonesia: patah tulang (general), kayu urip, tikel balung (Javanese)
  • Malaysia: kayu patah tulang, tulang-tulang, tentulang (Peninsular)
  • Philippines: bali-bali (Panay Bisaya), suelda-con-suelda (Bikol), suerda (Tagalog)
  • Laos: 'khi2hai bai
  • Thailand: khia cheen, khia thian, phayaa rai bai (northern)
  • Vietnam: xương cá, cây xương khô, san hô xanh.


Native to tropical Africa, but widely planted and naturalized throughout the tropics and subtropics. Within Malesia not yet reported from Borneo and New Guinea.


In traditional medicine, poultices from the stem or bark of E. tirucalli are applied to heal broken bones. The latex is used for similar purposes as that of E. antiquorum and E. neriifolia , but is poisonous, corrosive, and emetic. In Peninsular Malaysia, a poultice of the roots or stems has been applied to ulceration of the nose, haemorrhoids and swellings. Root scrapings, mixed with coconut oil, are given to cure stomach-ache. An extract of the plant shows antibiotic activity. E. tirucalli has also been used as a fish poison. It is widely planted as a hedge and for ornamental purposes, especially in dry regions. During the Second World War the latex was tested in South Africa as a rubber substitute, but it proved to be unstable. An oil obtained from the latex appeared useful for application in linoleum, oilskin and leather cloth industries. The white, close-grained and fairly hard wood is used for rafters, toys and veneer. It yields charcoal suitable for use in gunpowder.


  • An unarmed, succulent shrub or small tree up to 10(-15) m tall, branches often in whorls, terete, 5-8 mm in diameter, finely longitudinally striate.
  • Leaves alternate, early caducous, linear-lanceolate, 0.7-1.6 cm × 0.1-0.3 cm, narrowing at base, apex obtuse to subacute, glabrous throughout or puberulent below, sessile or subsessile, stipules minute, glandular.
  • Inflorescence on the stem apices and in bifurcations, generally composed of unisexual cyathia, bracts rounded, small; cyathia with 5 subglobose to transversely elliptical, bright yellow glands.
  • Capsule exserted on a tomentose pedicel, subglobose, 7-8 mm in diameter, glabrescent.
  • Seeds smooth, buff speckled with brown and with a dark brown ventral line.

E. tirucalli easily naturalizes in brushwood, open woodland and grassland, up to 2000 m altitude.

Selected sources

  • 97. Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink Jr, R.C., 1963-1968. Flora of Java. 3 volumes. Noordhoff, Groningen, the Netherlands. Vol. 1 (1963) 647 pp., Vol. 2 (1965) 641 pp., Vol. 3 (1968) 761 pp.
  • 134. Baslas, R.K. & Gupta, N.C., 1983. Chemical investigation on Indian medicinal plant possessing anticancer activity: roots of Euphorbia tirucalli Linn. Journal of the Indian Chemical Society 60(5): 506-508.
  • 154. Biesboer, D.D. & Mahlberg, P.G., 1984. The effect of medium modification and selected precursors on sterol production by short term callus cultures of Euphorbia tirucalli. Journal of Natural Products 42(6): 648-657.
  • 202. Burkill, I.H., 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Revised reprint. 2 volumes. Ministry of Agriculture and Co operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Vol. 1 (A-H) pp. 1-1240. Vol. 2 (I- Z) pp. 1241-2444.
  • 217. Carter, S. & Radcliffe Smith, A., 1988. Euphorbiaceae (Part 2). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor): Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. pp. 409-576.
  • 287. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, 1948-1976. The wealth of India: a dictionary of Indian raw materials & industrial products. 11 volumes. Publications and Information Directorate, New Delhi, India.
  • 337. Declerck, M., Smets, P.H., Smets, J. & Roman, J., 1985. Euphorbia project: renewable energy production through the cultivation and processing of semi arid land biomass in Kenya. In: Palz, W., Coombs, J. & Hall, D.O., (Editors): Energy from biomass, 3rd EC conference. Proceeding of the International Conference on Biomass held in Venice, Italy, 25-29 March 1985. Elsevier Applied Science Publishers, London, United Kingdom. pp. 310-314.
  • 453. Furstenberger, G. & Hecker, E., 1986. On the active principles of the Euphorbiaceae, XII. Highly unsaturated irritant diterpene esters from Euphorbia tirucalli originating from Madagascar. Journal of Natural Products 49(3): 386-397.
  • 531. Gutierrez, H.G., 1980-1982. An illustrated manual of Philippine materia medica. 2 volumes. Natural Research Council of the Philippines, Tagig, Metro Manila, the Philippines. Vol. 1 (1980) pp. 1-234, Vol. 2 (1982) pp. 235-485.
  • 580. Heyne, K., 1950. De nuttige planten van Indonesië [The useful plants of Indonesia]. 3rd Edition. 2 volumes. W. van Hoeve, 's Gravenhage, the Netherlands/Bandung, Indonesia. 1660 + CCXLI pp.
  • 638. Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M., 1992. The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. 4 volumes. The MacMillan Press Ltd., London, United Kingdom. 3353 pp.
  • 647. Imai, S. et al., 1994. African Burkitt's lymphoma: A plant, Euphorbia tirucalli, reduces Epstein Barr virus specific cellular immunity. Anticancer Research 14(3A): 933-936.
  • 828. Leach, L.C., 1973. Euphorbia tirucalli L.: its typification, synonymy and relationships, with notes on "Almeidina” and "Cassoneira”. Kirkia 9: 69-86.
  • 864. Lin. S. C. & Hsieh, C. F., 1991. A taxonomic study of the genus Euphorbia L. (Euphorbiaceae) in Taiwan. Taiwania 36: 57-79.
  • 865. Lin, S. C. & Hsieh, C. F., 1993. Euphorbia. In: Huang, T. C. (Editor): Flora of Taiwan. 2nd Edition. Vol. 3. Editorial Committee of the Flora of Taiwan, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China. pp. 456-469.
  • 960. Mizuno, F. et al., 1986. Epstein Barr virus enhancing plant promoters in East Africa. AIDS Research 2, supplement 1: S151-S155.
  • 979. Morton, J.F., 1981. Atlas of medicinal plants of Middle America. Bahamas to Yucatan. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, United States. 1420 pp.
  • 1035. Nguyen Van Duong, 1993. Medicinal plants of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Mekong Printing, Santa Ana, California, United States. 528 pp.
  • 1074. Ohyama, K., Misawa, N., Yamano, Y. & Komano, T., 1984. Protoplast isolation from Euphorbia tirucalli L. cell suspension cultures and sustained cell division. Zeitschrift für Pflanzenphysiologie 113(4): 367-370.
  • 1126. Perry, L.M., 1980. Medicinal plants of East and Southeast Asia. Attributed properties and uses. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States & London, United Kingdom. 620 pp.
  • 1128. Pételot, A., 1952-1954. Les plantes médicinales du Cambodge, du Laos et du Vietnam [The medicinal plants of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam]. 4 volumes. Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques et Techniques, Saigon, Vietnam.
  • 1135. Philcox, D., 1997. Euphorbiaceae. In: Dassanayake, M.D. & Clayton, W.D. (Editors): A revised handbook to the flora of Ceylon. Vol. 11. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. pp. 80-283.
  • 1178. Quisumbing, E., 1978. Medicinal plants of the Philippines. Katha Publishing Co., Quezon City, the Philippines. 1262 pp.
  • 1181. Radcliffe Smith, A., 1972. Euphorbia L. In: Airy Shaw, H. K. The Euphorbiaceae of Siam. Kew Bulletin 26: 261-268.
  • 1184. Radcliffe Smith, A., 1981. Euphorbia L. In: Airy Shaw, H.K. The Euphorbiaceae of Sumatra. Kew Bulletin 36: 294-296.
  • 1185. Radcliffe Smith, A., 1981. Euphorbia L. In: Airy Shaw, H.K. An alphabetical enumeration of the Euphorbiaceae of the Philippine Islands. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. pp. 24-26.
  • 1186. Radcliffe Smith, A., 1982. Euphorbia L. In: Airy Shaw, H. K. The Euphorbiaceae of Central Malesia. Kew Bulletin 37: 18-20.
  • 1380. Smitinand, T., 1980. Thai plant names. Royal Forest Department, Bangkok, Thailand. 379 pp.
  • 1402. Stienswat, W., Buachan, W. & Sukhiwong, R., 1983. Phaya rai bai phut petroleum [Euphorbia tirucalli--petroleum plant]. Faculty of Agriculture, Kasetsart University, Bangkok, Thailand. 21 pp.
  • 1499. Van Damme, P., 1989. Studie van Euphorbia tirucalli L., morfologie, fysiologie, teeltvoorwaarden [Study of Euphorbia tirucalli L., morphology, physiology, agronomy]. Thesis, Gent University, Belgium. 375 pp. + appendices.
  • 1525. Vidal, J., 1962. Noms vernaculaires de plantes en usage au Laos [Vernacular names of plants used in Laos]. Ecole française d'Extrême Orient, Paris, France. 197 pp.
  • 1547. Wang, S. C. & Huffman, J.B., 1981. Botanochemicals: supplements to petrochemicals. Economic Botany 35(4): 369-382.
  • 1610. Yamamoto et al., 1981. Chemical constituents of cultured cells of Euphorbia tirucalli and millii. Plant Cell Reports 1(1): 29-30.


  • Nguyen Nghia Thin & M.S.M. Sosef

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