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Euphorbia milii var. splendens


Title: Euphorbia milii var. splendens

Mediums: Ink on Bristol Paper, scanned, digital paint and compilation done on Adobe Photoshop.

Date Completed: 6 December 2019

Original Dimensions: 12 x 15 inches


Euphorbia Milii var. Splendens is popularly called "Crown of Thorns" and is a resilient plant native to Madagascar.

Physical Description:

The flowering plant species Euphorbia milii var. splendens (the splendens variety of the milii species) is commonly called "Crown of Thorns." Plant features thick, thorny branches that weave around each other until they bluntly end where small buds can be seen growing. Flowering stems grow from the budding areas. The red 'flowers' are actually cyathia: a feature unique to Euphorbiaecae plants where specialized leaves mimic petals that encircle several very small flowers. Leaves are a bright but matte green, and are large with blunt ends. They grow closest to the top of branch stalks in all directions between thorns.


In March 2017, I was a student at Northern Illinois University enrolled in a Scientific Illustration course where I visited the campus greenhouse to sketch in preparation for a botanical illustration. Here I bonded with a relatively common shrub and, for the plant pun, found euphoria.

Greenhouses are full of unusual plants that may not be native to the area. I remember seeing giant leaves of tropical plants, tall succulents, and brilliantly intricate flowers. At the time many plants were new to me, even well-known ones such as dill. I can't even remember what I found so appealing about Euphorbia milii. It was something about being in a crowded greenhouse and seeing this massive plant folded in on itself to make the most of the location it was given to grow. Perhaps that it what makes all plants so comforting: they can't change their situation and adapt to make the most of it.

Growing up in a Midwest suburb, I ignorantly tended to view trees and plants as separate types of flora. Most plants I encountered were for landscaping and it seemed important that they match their surroundings; green stems and leaves were planted in neat rows that had to fit in a designated area. Plants and flowers were flimsy and came in plastic pots from hardware stores with the sole intention of decoration and gifts for mother's day. Trees were different. They didn't need to match anything and even their bark was a different color to the greenery they adorned. The massive trees of my childhood neighborhood towered over houses and streetlights, and I knew trees stayed where they were and people had to work around them. But Euphorbia milii had it all: thick, branch-like stems that kept it rooted, and vibrant green leaves with delicate red flowers.

The Euphorbia species and varieties are a splendid combination of plant features. It helped me realize that while we try to shape our landscape, and can sometimes be limited by location, it is more common to grow unpredictably. The illustration itself grew overtime. Starting as just an ink drawing in 2017, it was digitally colored in 2019 for my graduating portfolio and since edited it for my current endeavors.


Forget anything mentioned about this being a common plant.

The Euphorbiaceae plant family taxonomy alone took a while to understand being one of the most diverse plant groups. Originally, I had titled the piece Euphorbia splendens thinking this was the genus species name since I had found it written on one of the NIU greenhouse labels. I learned later that there are so many varieties of a single species, and the different variety name, species name, and genus names can mistakenly be used synonymously. Looking back at my reference photos, I found another label reading Euphorbia milii, and learned that this was actually the correct genus species name. It took a good amount of research to put the two pieces together. I was unable to cross-reference my photos with a specific image of the E. milii var. splendens though, so I am trusting my personal source material at the NIU greenhouse.

Being a tropical plant, the Crown-of-Thorns is decently resilient in moderate temperatures and low humidity. When used as a decorative shrub, it can easily overpower cultivation and grow impressively thick to become somewhat invasive in areas without proper attention. Producing a milky irritant poison in the stalk, improper growth can be harmful in areas where local wildlife or people do not recognize this risk.

E. m. var. splendens flowers several times a year. 'Flowering' is more complex though. The Euphorbia genus consists of intricate cyathium structures that look like flowers, but the true flowers are small stalks inside the very center. The colorful 'petals' are actually special leaves that mimic a floral appearance. Think of the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) which looks like a large flower from a distance but up close you can see is made of red colored leaves with very small yellow buds; in fact, the 'buds' in the center of a poinsettia are also cyathia holding the even smaller true flowers.

Admittedly, I didn't know any of these facts when I first drew Euphorbia. Four years later, I decided to write excerpts for each illustration and that's when I really put the name to the flower. Sometimes the inspiration comes this way: first from a sense of awe and pure observation that leads me down the research road for further information. While identification is important, it is not initially necessary for an illustration.

Draw what you see, and learn later what you drew.

Reference Citations

Rojas-Sandoval, Julissa. "Euphorbia milii (crown-of-thorns)." Invasive Species Compendium (ISC), Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI). Originally Published by Department of Botany - Smithsonian NMNH, 19 April 2020, Washington DC, USA. Web: Accessed 15 June 2021.

"Crown Of Thorns: Euphorbia milii var. splendens (Bojer ex Hook.) Ursch & Leandri." Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Web: Accessed 15 June 2021.

"Euphorbia milii var. splendens." Plant Collections, Chicago Botanic Garden. Web: Accessed 15 June 2021.


Original Art © 2019 Faith Mellenthin, Artist & Author

Citation: Mellenthin, Faith. "Botany: Euphorbia milii var. Splendens." Observe [blog]. 27 June 2021. Web.



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