By John Wiley
Now that I have your attention, below are some details about encountering a naked lady in our front yard. She has many aliases for whatever reason(s). Another name is milk bush and apparently some use fire stick. Our neighbors also call it Sticks On Fire. Other names include Indian tree spurge, pencil tree, pencil cactus, and if you know some please Comment. As you may have guessed by now I’m talking about this lovely lady.
You’ve also probably guessed that her appearance in our yard is my doing. It’s attractive, needs almost no water, is resistant to fire, and is so easy to grow even I can do it. I got a small piece of it and stuck it in the ground, watering occasionally for a week or two. Then I noticed that the one in a neighbor’s back yard is 10′ tall. Another local suggested being very careful cutting it, which I did three days ago. This is where the plot thickens.
That is the right eye of an amateur photographer who’s seen the light and wants to keep doing so. My eye doesn’t normally look so puffy, droopy, scary and unhealthy. Turns out that the naked lady (Euphorbia tirucalli) is increasingly popular in California, but most people have never heard of it. My extended education begs the question: “Euphor…?! Certainly not related to any sort of Euphoria, and EuPhobia would be more apt. Anyway, despite being quite careful having been warned, I obviously still managed to get some on me and spread it to an eye and the opposite ear. That ear looks much worse than the eye. Both areas are dramatically hideous, swollen and itchy to the extent that the above eye was nearly shut Sunday morning so we went to E.R. thinking it could be a systemic disease.
Turns out in extreme cases (mostly people who don’t know what caused it and thus continue to spread the toxin on themselves, others, surfaces, and pets), it can cause blindness and hearing loss. Treatment is apparently similar or identical to poison oak: 1.Extreme care (goggles and disposable gloves) to avoid touching the plant, and especially the white sticky latex that quickly emerges from this species and can even shoot out when it’s cut. 2.Immediate removal of any toxin that may be on your skin, using detergent or soap and copious water (eye wash saline and possibly baby shampoo if you actually get it IN an eye) and for skin some even suggest a mineral spirits product like TechNu (contains mineral oil which could actually cause other problems, but in a bad case…).
I’m posting this in the hope that it may spare you and everyone you care about (hopefully even mortal enemies), such an enduring encounter. The reason being that the excellent and very experienced E.R. doctor had never heard of this plant or its threat to human happiness. So hopefully shouting this from Ed’s rooftop can help get the word out to anyone else who greatly enjoys having this in their yard and safely away from kids. Online movements are afoot to require warning labels at nurseries. Maybe I’ll post a warning sign about there being a Dangerous Naked Lady in the yard. Well, perhaps better: FireStick Plant is Harmful Do Not Touch. Anyone else have experiences or info about this to share? There’s of course a good wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphorbia_tirucalli