Common Name: Fire Sticks, Sticks on Fire, Pencil Cactus, or Milkbush
How is this plant unsafe?
How do you plant safely?
Sap in any form, including dried sap, is irritating and can be toxic if one gets it on exposed skin such as bare hands or in eyes.
Note that dried sap may be on the plant at anytime and is toxic.
Never touch this plant with bare hands, always wear gloves when handling this plant, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap after any contact with this plant.
This plant is particularly problematic because it appears harmless having no spines or sharp edges to warn unsuspecting people or pets.
A pedestrian or pet may accidentally brush up against its brittle 'leaves' while walking on a sidewalk or by a potted plant causing a piece to break off. The passer bye could be severely injured as a result of the plant releasing its toxic milky sap.
It has recently become an increasing health problem as many who garden with it, have ended up in the hospital's emergency room. This can be the result of not being extremely cautious when working with this plant.
Children and pets should not play near this plant.
Wear protective clothing when working with this plant, such as long sleeves, long pants, gloves, sturdy shoes and eye protection. Wash your clothes after working with this plant.
Note how large the plant grows (40 feet tall by 10 feet wide in frost free areas) and make sure it is planted a safe distance away from sidewalks
Plant it in the ground rather than a pot because it quickly outgrows the pot.
Once planted in the ground, consider completely removing it every three years and starting over with a cutting because the plant will fill out its space and it becomes difficult to prune once it is large.
Always use proper pruning techniques and prune evenly starting at the bottom and working your way upwards so the toxic sap does not rain down on you as you are pruning.
Do not prune it into a tree as it will become top-heavy and fall over.