Distribution and habitatEuphorbia mauritanica grows very well in dry climates and in coastal as well as inland areas with colder winters. This plant occurs extensively throughout the Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, as well as in Namibia. This is the most widely distributed of all the South African shrubby euphorbias. It is found in most of southern Africa, especially the Succulent Karroo, where it is frequently dominant in valleys and hillsides.
Euphorbia mauritanica is a monoecious, spineless succulent bush, up to 1.5 m high, with branches arising from a thick root stock, with relatively few side branches, yellowish green, pencil-thin, cylindrical and smooth, with alternate leaf scars. This plant produces yellow cyathia (the term used for the inflorescence of euphorbias) that are in a compact group at the end of each young branch. The flowering period is between August and October. When the plant is injured, it produces milky sap at the cut.
Uses and cultural aspects
Euphorbia mauritanica is reputed to be poisonous and only steenbuck and klipspringer are known to eat it. Bushmen use latex (sap) solely for its cohesive properties. Some people believe the latex contains a 'virulent resin' which makes the plant useless as a livestock food. Indeed, this euphorbia has been suspected of causing death in sheep. However, Sarcostemma viminale (Apocynaceae) closely resembles Euphorbia mauritanica, and the symptoms of poisoning could be confused. In terms of pharmacological effects, irritant diterpenes cause injury and blindness but the exact cause of poisoning after ingesting the plant is poorly understood. E. mauritanica may cause a fatal nervous disorder in sheep, characterized by muscle tremors, foaming at the mouth, bloating, diarrhoea and fever.
Euphorbia mauritanica can be used as a feature plant in a rockery garden; gardeners like it for being colourful and drought resistant.