Tipsy cactus, go boom
November 2, 2011 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Dear MeFi houseplanters and succulent enthusiasts, can you help me identify my treasured, overgrown cactus, and help me keep it upright?

Perhaps 3 or 4 years ago I picked up a tiny, unlabeled cactus at the grocery store. Fast forward to now, and it's a spindly, 4-foot tall monster. Many times over the years I've had to temporarily prop it against a wall to correct its growth upwards; except recently I neglected it in a corner wall and it sagged down & started growing along the wall at a 45 degree angle. So now one new limb is very bowed and I'm afraid to leave it unsupported lest it break.

What kind of cactus is this, and how do these things grow in the wild? Do limbs, or even base, just break occasionally and it keeps growing? Why does the base never thicken to support its weight? Should I be cutting limbs off? If not, should I be using a different kind of planter to help support its height? Is it bad to lean it against furniture to correct, and will it correct itself if I don't? Figuring out the species would be a good start, but I haven't had luck googling and flickring.
posted by Sayuri. to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Best answer: I'm pretty sure it's a euphorbia, and surely someone wise is typing a more informative answer right now.
posted by bink at 6:47 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: My mom calls these milk trees--I don't know if that might help with your search.
posted by maxwelton at 7:38 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: I had one of those. Warned about its tendency to grow crazily, I watered it, oh, maybe once or twice per year. It took about 12 years before it was so tall I had to give it away, cutting a little bit off to re-pot for myself. That's now growing, slowly.

You might be able to re-pot it in a larger (for weight) pot, then do what I did for some tomatoes once: make a tripod out of something (wooden tomato stakes fastened by twine through drilled top holes), perch the tripod over the plant, then tie it to the tripod carefully.

You could also cut a bunch of pieces off and give them to your friends (in pots with dirt). Perhaps you could "prune" it so that it has more branches at the bottom, and is less rangy. Be sure to warn your friends.

One final idea: put it into a bigger pot, cut pieces off the top, and plant them right next to the main plant. You could make a little mini-forest.
posted by amtho at 7:39 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lovely plant, by the way! It looks really happy.
posted by amtho at 7:40 PM on November 2, 2011

Response by poster: Goodness there are a lot of euphorbias out there! Thanks for the milk tree comment, that pointed us in the right direction. We are googling here and think it's a Euphorbia Lactea (NOT a cactus at all, apologies to those botanists who may be offended! :) I'm fairly alarmed by this photo.

Mine doesn't grow long leaves before branches, like some similar euphorbias, just tiny hard ones that quickly turn into thick nodes. It's tough to confirm because so many plants on the internet are misidentified.
More stories about owning them would be great! I'm happy to see he'll keep growing upward naturally, and that I haven't created some self-destructive mutant with misuse of miracle-gro. I don't mind his rangyness; he can take over that corner entirely if he wants.
posted by Sayuri. at 8:13 PM on November 2, 2011

I don't know too much about plants, but generally when a plant seems to be reaching like yours is, it's because it isn't getting enough light.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:06 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: I would re-pot it in a heavy clay pot and add a bamboo or wood stake. You might even get fancy and put it on a little wheeled stand - then you can rotate it so it grows more evenly. It looks very healthy though!
posted by leslies at 5:17 AM on November 3, 2011

I think in the wild these have a sort of sprawly, vining habit. I've seen them called night-blooming cereus or or some such.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:47 AM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: I'll get a heavier pot, lean it for now against something just a bit until it gets upright again, and be better about rotating it. I feel like a stake in the pot wouldn't have enough leverage to keep everything vertical, but I'm heartened by all the photos I found of E. Lactea growing upright on its own. I'll remove the gravel topping from the pot, just in case that's keeping him from thickening up. (I had it there to keep gnats from laying eggs.) Sadly we're northeast facing currently, although it's always looked spindly like that even when I was in a south-facing apartment, but it's been doing well here for almost 2 years now.

Thanks, all! Finding out the species has been driving me nuts for years!
posted by Sayuri. at 8:29 AM on November 3, 2011

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