The pencil cactus plant (Euphorbia tirucalli) also known as the firestick plant, Indian tree spurge, naked lady, pencil tree, aveloz or milk bush is a low maintenance tall succulent plant that can grow up to 8 feet tall in pots and is native to Africa ( semi-arid tropical climates). In the wild, this plant can grow up to 30 feet tall and a maximum of 10 feet wide. The branches of this plant are cylindrical resembling a pencil, thus it is called a pencil cactus.

You can also notice that instead of sharp spines that are usually present in cactus plants, oval-shaped small leaves of a maximum 1 inch size grow on its branches. This is because this plant is not from the cactus family, but from the Euphorbiaceae family. The plant produce yellow colored flowers from spring to summer.

Moreover, the pencil cactus plant is also called a firestick plant because of two reasons. When kept under bright direct sunlight during cold winters, the foliage color starts turning red resembling burning firesticks. The other reason is the poisonous properties of this plant. It contains a toxic sap that is harmful to humans and animals and gives burning sensations.

Pencil Cactus (Firestick) Plant Care Guide


Follow these tips and guidelines to care for your pencil cactus plant.

  1. Sunlight: You can keep the firestick plant under bright direct to indirect sunlight. Daily at least 6 hours of sunlight is essential for good growth of this plant. That’s why you can grow them as outdoor as well as indoor plants. Avoid keeping them under low light conditions or hot afternoon sunlight for a longer duration.
  1. Soil & Potting Mix: For an ideal growth of pencil cactus plants, plant them in a well-drained, sandy soil rich in organic matter. If you do not have an ideal soil, then prepare a potting mix with 40% garden soil + 30% cow dung manure + 20% river sand + 10% neem cake fertilizer.
  1. Watering: It does not need frequent watering. Only water when the soil becomes dry. During hot summer you can water after every 4 to 5 days and in cold chilling winter 7 to 14 days interval is good as per local climatic conditions. Make sure to avoid waterlogging in the pot as it can cause root rot.
  1. Fertilizers: Pencil cactus is not a heavy feeder, hence you do not need to worry much about fertilizing this plant. During the beginning of the growth season, i.e., from spring, add one to two handfuls of vermicompost or dung manure once every 3 months to promote good growth in the plant. Do not over-fertilize this plant.
  1. How To Prune Pencil Cactus: You can prune this plant during the beginning of the spring season. Make sure to wear protective clothes and gloves before pruning firesticks, as the sap of this plant is poisonous and can stain your clothes. Prune out dead and diseased branches from the plant to give this desired shape. Avoid composting the pruned parts as they are poisonous.
  1. Potting & Repotting: You can plant firestick plants in earthen pots of 10 inches diameter. Repotting is required when plant roots start coming out from the bottom drainage holes of the pot. At this time you can transplant your pencil cactus plant to a larger pot. Carefully take out the plant along with the soil from the old pot, remove the soil around the roots, trim any weak or diseased part of roots and then transplant the plant to a larger pot filled with newly prepared potting mix.
  1. Pests & Diseases: Spider mites, aphids and nematodes can cause problem to your firestick plant. Hence, to control spider mites and aphids you can spray cold water or neem oil periodically. Overwatering or waterlogging in the pot can cause root rot, hence avoid overwatering your plant and maintain good drainage.

How To Propagate Pencil Cactus (Firestick) Plant?

You can easily propagate this plant from cuttings. Spring to summer season is the best season to propagate pencil cactus plants. Take 4 to 6-inch long stem cuttings with the help of a pruning shear. Wash the bottom end of the cuttings with fresh water and keep the cuttings in a dark isolated location for a week to dry out and form a callus over the cut end.

Once the callus has formed, you can plant them in well-drained sandy potting soil. Avoid adding fertilizers at this stage. You can also use river sand for planting firestick plant cuttings. Apply water after planting, and keep the pot under indirect sunlight. Water only when the top layer of the soil becomes dry, within a few days, roots will start developing. Once new growth starts in the cutting, you can transplant them to a desired pot.


Is pencil cactus poisonous?

Yes pencil cactus plant is poisonous, the sap of the plant is harmful to humans and animals.

Can you grow pencil cactus indoors?

Yes, they can grow indoors, but make sure to keep your plant near a window where they can receive bright indirect sunlight daily.

Do pencil cactus bloom?

Yes, pencil cactus plants bloom during the spring to summer season. They produce yellow flowers that usually last for a few days.

Why is my pencil cactus turning yellow?

Yellowing of pencil cactus plants can be due to over-watering, too much sunlight or nutritional deficiency. However, during winters their foliage color changes from green to yellow, orange and red naturally.

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