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The perennials of tomorrow?

The perennials of tomorrow?

Almost protean in their variety of forms,euphorbias range from insignificant annual weeds to the flaming poinsettia, from baseball-shaped globules and an array of horrifically spiny succulents to saguaro-size trees. The least known--but perhaps the most useful to the home gardener-- are the hardy perennial varieties from southern Europe, the Mediterranean, and western Asia. Indifferent to heat and drought, stong in outline, and subtle in color, they may be the popular perennials of tomorrow.

Largest of the lot is E. characias (E.c.wulfenii, E. veneta), which can make a clump 5 feet tall and just as wide. Unbranched stems are densely clad with narrow blue-green leaves. In late winter and early spring, a cylindrical or dome-shaped cluster of lime green to pale yellow "flowers' as much as 8 inches across crown each stem. (What appear to be single blooms are actually groups of three tiny flowers--one female and two male--surrounded by petal-like bracts.)

Flowers last for months, gradually fadingto tan. At this stage, the leaves begin to fall, and stems should be cut out at the base (cut carefully to avoid contact with the milky sap; it dries sticky and may irritate your skin). New shoots are already rising from the base of the plant-- making it, in effect, evergreen. Allowed to ripen, seeds will scatter themselves around the garden and sprout. You can move young plants readily; older plants have taproots and can't be moved safely.

Hardy to 0|, E. characias thrives in fullsun and can take light shade. It needs good drainage and tolerates both drought and routine summer garden irrigation.

The silvery ones

Alike in many details but different in sizeand habit, E. myrsinites and E. rigida (E. biglandulosa) serve different purposes in the garden. The first is the hardiest, remaining in full leaf to -20|. Each of its trailing stems--closely set with broad, stemless, silver-gray leaves--ends in a flat cluster of chartreuse to yellow flowers much like those of E. characias--and appearing in the same season. Stems die off as seeds ripen, but new stems will already have appeared. (If you wish to save seed of any of these, tie a bag around the cluster while seeds are green; they can vanish overnight when they ripen).

E. rigida and E. characias are stunning inarrangements. Soak cut ends in hot water until sap flow stops, then arrange. Although similar to E. myrsinites in leaf form and color, E. rigida is taller (to 2 feet) and more upright. Its flowers are also a brighter yellow. Tolerating much heat and drought, it is an excellent plant for desert gardens--where it's especially striking against dark rocks or masonry walls. (You may find E. characias sold as E. biglandulosa; the two plants are quite distinct, but growers often confuse them.) Supplies of these choice plants are small--and demand is great. Ask your most knowledgeable nurseryman to find some for you. Or mail-order seed of E. characias and E. myrsinites from Thompson & Morgan, Box 1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527 (free catalog).

Photo: Colors range from lime to chartreuse in dense flower clusters that top 4-foot stems of Euphorbia characias

Photo: Snaky silver stems of E. myrsinitestrail over a wall, carry pastel blooms

Photo: Chartreuse flowers top silver-leafed stems of arresting E. rigida in earliest spring
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1987
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