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The gopher plant’s namesake, the gopher, is a brown rodent that is not very colorful. However, the gopher plant is very colorful, with gray-blue lance-shaped leaves, chartreuse bracts, and bright yellow springtime flowers.
The gopher plant, or Euphorbia rigida, is a weed that comes from the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
This upright, sprawling, succulent-like plant has as many names as it has shaped. It may be called milkweed, silver spurge, gopher spurge, or even upright myrtle spurge.
It also has a second scientific name, Euphorbia biglandulosa, just to be sure.
Luckily, E. rigida has found a better home in North America as a specimen ornamental in zones 7–10, where many gardeners like its interesting and easy-to-care-for habit.
As we’ve already said, this plant can spread out like a groundcover or grow into a bush with silvery-gray, lance-shaped leaves that spiral around thick stems up to two feet tall.
Sometimes, a single plant can show both ways of growing.
It can live in temperatures as low as 10 to 20°F. We get a few winter nights in the low 20s in Austin, but I’ve never lost one.
In colder climates, however, some gardeners treat E. rigid as a summer annual.
Hidden Dangers, and Benefits
Like all of its Euphorbia relatives, E. rigida is poisonous if eaten, so keep pets and young children away from it. If you cut or break the plant, it will leak a milky sap that can irritate your skin.
The flowers of this evergreen beauty, which is in the family Euphorbiaceae, attract lots of bees in the spring.
Scientists are also looking into how different kinds of Euphorbia can be used as a biofuel. I, for one, would love it if my home’s electricity came from fields and fields of this pretty plant and its relatives.
Where to Buy
You’ll get two pieces that are 3 to 5 inches long. To get the cuttings to grow roots, dust the ends with 0.1 percent naphthalene acetic acid, which is a type of rooting hormone, and put them in a succulent planting medium, which is a mix of sand, perlite, and peat moss.
Place the container on a warming mat heated to about 77°F for the best results. Think about this Apollo Horticulture mat, which you can buy on Amazon.
This 9-by-20-inch mat will speed up the process of a plant’s roots taking hold. Do not put your cuttings where they will be in the sun. Just enough water should be used to keep the soil from getting too dry.
In about three weeks, your cuttings should have grown roots. Let them stay in their pots all winter, and then move them outside when there is no longer any chance of frost.
Since E. rigida seeds don’t keep well, it is unlikely that you will be able to buy them in a store. It will self-seed in your garden when it’s old enough, and you can also split up plants that are already there.
Rock ‘n Roll
These hardy plants can grow in clay, sand, loam, chalk, or any other well-drained soil. They look especially nice in rock gardens and beds with pebble mulch.
Most of the time, I see them growing in full sun, but some gardeners have been able to grow them in partial shade as well.
Not too Much to Drink
The gopher plant can handle drought very well. I don’t give mine extra water because it only rains once or twice in the summer and does fine without it.
If you don’t like how it can spread out and look a little strange after it blooms, cut off the trailing stems. You’ll get a more compact, upright plant.
When trimming this plant, as with all spurges, it’s best to wear gloves to avoid the irritating sap that comes out when it’s cut.
I’ve never fertilized mine, but if yours is looking a little ragged, dilute a 10-10-10 fertilizer to one-quarter strength and apply it once a week during the growing season.
Soap ‘Em Away
Nematodes, spider mites, aphids, or mealybugs can sometimes make gopher plants sick. Use an insecticide soap, like this one from Safer Brand that you can get on Amazon, to get rid of these bugs.
This spray bottle holds 32 ounces and is ready to use.
E. rigida keeps deer and rodents away, including gophers, so you don’t have to worry about those pests.
Gorgeous Natural Rodent Repellent
What could be better than a plant that looks good, feels good, and keeps rodents away?
E. rigida is a pretty plant that does well in xeriscsaped gardens or other gardens that would benefit from an interesting centerpiece plant.
Were you familiar with E. rigida? Sounds like something you might want to put in your garden, right? Tell us about it in the comments section below, and if you’re looking for another plant that can grow in a dry area, a small globe thistle is a good choice.