A Few Facts About Growing Pencil Trees
Pencil trees are known by many other names, including milk bush, finger tree and sticks of fire. The tree is part of the cactus, or succulent, family of plants and trees, but it does not really look like a typical cactus. Pencil trees are fairly easy to grow and require little to no care, because they are extremely resistant to drought conditions. The only drawback to the pencil tree is that its milk can be very irritating if it comes in contact with the skin.
Facts About Pencil Trees
The pencil tree can grow pretty tall – anywhere from 2 feet to more than 10 feet, so it needs plenty of space in the garden or yard. Pencil trees are easy plants to keep. They are very low maintenance and barely even need to be watered. Since the tree likes it dry and hot, they do very well in gardening zones 9, 10 and 11, all located in the southern United States.
Planting a Pencil Tree
Because of their height, it is a good idea to leave at least a foot or two between pencil tree plants. They do not grow very wide, but their height means they still need enough space to grow. Pencil tree plants do not have to be placed outside either. They do well in large pots grown inside the house as well.
A pencil tree plant can be rooted quite easily by placing a clipping in a container of water. The plant will grow roots within just a couple of weeks and can be transplanted either to a pot or directly into the yard. Pencil trees kept indoors do best when placed in full sun. Healthy and happy plants can easily grow to 4 or 5-feet tall. A pencil tree grown outside in the yard should also be planted where it will get direct sunlight most of the day. Outside plants will usually grow even taller than their indoor cousins.
Growing a Pencil Tree
The pencil tree grows very quickly. They require little or no watering or fertilizing and can last through drought conditions just fine. The most important thing a pencil tree will need is lots and lots of sun.
Pencil Tree Warning
The down side of having a pencil tree around is that they contain a sappy substance that can cause a fairly serious allergic reaction whenever it is touched. This milky, thick liquid is inside the pencil tree stems, and it is released when a plant is trimmed or the stem is broken.
There can be different reactions to touching the sap of a pencil tree, but some people have reported serious allergies that cause difficulty breathing and hospitalization. Most people only experience mild to severe irritation, but caution should be used whenever handling a pencil tree plant.
The danger should not detract from the ease and beauty of the pencil tree. In fact, many gardeners absolutely love this plant and it is quite common to see it in landscapes all over the southwest. Since it needs so little care, it is welcome in many a southern garden. Expert tree growers recommend a few cautionary steps when working with this plant:
> Always wear gloves to protect the skin from coming in contact with the sap of the pencil tree.
> Plant the tree away from high traffic areas where people are likely to touch it.
> Thoroughly wash and rinse hands and arms after touching or working with the pencil tree plant in any way.