Good Riddance, Rodents: Say Hello to Gopher Plant

Euphorbia biglandulosa

Unlike its rather dull brown rodent namesake, gopher plant is beautifully colored, impressing with distinctive gray-blue, lance-shaped leaves, chartreuse bracts, and bright yellow springtime flowers.

Vertical image of several clusters of chartreuse flowers topping long stems circles with short, spiky blue-green leaves on a gopher plant growing in soil topped with small, dry, brown leaves.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) is native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where it is considered a weed. Fortunately, E. rigida has found a more welcoming home as a specimen ornamental in zones 7-10 here in North America, where many gardeners appreciate its interesting and easy-care habit.

Yellow-green two-petaled flowers in clusters of five or six top tall branches circles with blue-green spiky leaves on a sprawling E. rigida plant, growing in brown dry leaves.
Perfect for attracting pollinators while keeping pesky rodents away, this Euphorbia is much more than just an ornamental. Photo by Gretchen Heber.

This shrubby, upright, sprawly, succulent-like plant has as many aliases as it does forms: You may know it as upright myrtle spurge, silver spurge, gopher spurge, or even milkweed. Just for good measure, it has a secondary scientific name, too: Euphorbia biglandulosa.

Closeup of bright yellow-green flowers blooming at the top of stems covered with spiky blue-green flowers, on a gopher plant in the garden.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

As alluded to above, this shape-shifter can sprawl out, almost groundcover-like, or it can be much more shrubby, with silvery-gray, lance-shaped leaves that spiral around thick stems reaching up to two feet tall. Sometimes a single specimen can exhibit both growing habits.

E. rigida browing in the sunshine, on long stems with short, spiky leaves and tiny yellow-green flowers.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

It is cold tolerant to low temperatures between 10 and 20°F. In Austin, we sometimes get a couple of winter nights in the low 20s, and I’ve never lost one. Some gardeners in colder climates, however, treat E. rigida as a summer annual.

Hidden Dangers, and Benefits

Like its other Euphorbia cousins, E. rigida is toxic if eaten, so keep curious pets and toddlers away from this one. If the plant is cut or broken, it leaks a milky sap that can cause skin irritation.

A bee pollinates a chartreuse E. rigida blossom, growing in a cluster on the end of a tall stem surrounded with short, spiky, grayish green leaves, in a garden bed covered in dry brown leaves.
Bees love it! Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Bees flock to the springtime flowers of this evergreen beauty, which is in the family Euphorbiaceae.

Scientists have also begun research using various types of Euphorbia as a biofuel. I, for one, would love to be able to thank fields and fields of this pretty plant and its relatives for supplying electricity to my home.

Where to Buy

Cuttings of E. rigida are available via Amazon.

E. Rigida, 2 Cuttings, 3-5 Inches

You’ll receive two 3- to 5-inch cuttings. To root the cuttings, dust the ends with 0.1% naphthalene acetic acid (a type of rooting hormone) and insert into a succulent planting medium — a mixture of sand, perlite, and peat moss.

For best results, place the container on a warming mat heated to about 77°F. Consider this mat from Apollo Horticulture, available via Amazon.

Apollo Horticulture 9×20″ Seedling Heating Mat for Propagation and Cloning

This 9-by-20-inch mat will help speed up the rooting process. Do not place your cuttings in direct sun. Water just enough to keep the soil from getting completely dry.

Your cuttings should be rooted in about three weeks. Allow them to remain in their containers throughout the winter, and then transplant outdoors when all danger of frost has passed.

Pom-pom clusters of green-yellow flowers on top of long, skinny stems of spiky gray-blue leaves.

E. rigida seeds are not shelf stable, and so it is unlikely that you will be able to purchase them commercially. When mature, it will self-seed in your garden, and you can divide existing plants, too.

Rock ‘n Roll

These hardscrabble toughies will tolerate many well-drained soil types: clay, sand, loam, or chalk. They look particularly nice in rock gardens, and in beds with pebble mulch.

Narrow, pointy, pale blue-green leaves grow on long stems topped with clusters of greenish-yellow flowers on an E. rigida plant.

I usually see them growing in full sun, but some gardeners have also had luck growing them in partial shade.

Not too Much to Drink

Gopher plant is extremely drought tolerant. I don’t give mine any supplemental water; we only get rain once or twice in the summer, and it does just fine.

If you object to the sprawly, slightly odd-looking form that it can take after blooming, trim off the trailing stems. You’ll get a more compact, upright plant.

E. rigida shot from above, with spiky blue-green leaves.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Like all spurges, it’s best to wear gloves when trimming this plant, to avoid the irritating sap that oozes out when it’s cut.

I’ve never fertilized mine, but if yours is looking a little peaked, dilute a 10-10-10 fertilizer to one-quarter strength and apply once a week during the growing season.

Soap ‘Em Away

Gopher plants may be occasionally bothered by nematodes, spider mites, aphids, or mealybugs. Get rid of these pests with an insecticidal soap, such as this one from Safer Brand, available via Amazon.

Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap, 32 Oz.

This 32-ounce spray bottle is ready to use.

Yellow-green blossoms cluster at the top of long stems circles with spiky gray-blue leaves of the gopher plant.

E. rigida repels deer and rodents, including — you guessed it — gophers, so no need to fret over those pests.

Gorgeous Natural Rodent Repellent

Texturally and chromatically compelling, easy care and repels rodents — what more could you ask for?

Blooming Euphorbia rigida with chartreuse blossoms atop tall stems with pointy, narrow blue-green leaves.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.

E. rigida is an attractive plant that does particularly well in xeriscaped landscapes or other gardens where an intriguing specimen plant would be welcome.

Had you ever heard of E. rigida before? Does it sound like something you might like to add to your garden? Tell us about it in the comments section below, and if you’re looking for another xeriscape-ready plant, consider small globe thistle.


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different views of a gopher plant.

Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via skygardenLG, Apollo Horticulture, and Safer Brand. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

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About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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