Coral Cactus

Coral cactus closeup (Euphorbia lactea cristata), mottled spurge, false cactus, crested elkhorn, frilled fan. White flower with pink around. Green background. Unusual unique succulent. Euphorbiaceae
© Prodromos_1/Shutterstock.com

Written by Nixza Gonzalez

Updated: May 4, 2023

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The coral cactus is a favorite for many house plant enthusiasts, but guess what? Technically, this beautiful and vibrant plant isn’t a true cactus. But it is a succulent. Has the unique shape of this plant caught your interest? Follow along to learn more about the coral cactus, including how to care for the curly plant.

What is a Coral Cactus?

A coral cactus is a cultivar of Euphorbia lactea. This spurge is native to Asia, mainly India. It grows tall in the wild and is shrub-like. It is a common ornamental plant, commonly grown as a houseplant. However, it also contains poisonous milky latex.

The scientific name for the coral cactus is Eurphorbia lactea crest. This fan-like succulent is technically two plants in one. The two plants are grafted together. The bottom of the coral cactus is a Euphorbia neriifolia, which acts like a stem, while the top is a Euphorbia lactea. Despite being two completely different succulents, the plants grow together as one after the grafting process. This plant is relatively small and reaches about 9 to 15 inches tall.

This succulent’s unique appearance attracts many houseplant lovers. As the name suggests, the wavy and frilly top of the plant resembles a beautiful piece of coral. The colors vary too. Most coral cacti are green on the bottom, and white and either purple, green, ruby, white, or yellow on the top.

Coral cactus raising its arm (Euphorbia lactea cristata), mottled spurge, false cactus, crested elkhorn, frilled fan. Pink flower. Green foliage with thorns. Unusual unique succulent. Euphorbiaceae

Interestingly, the coral cactus isn’t a cactus at all, but two different succulents grafted together.

©Prodromos_1/Shutterstock.com

Colors of Coral Cacti

The coral cactus looks like something out of a science fiction movie. This eye-catching plant comes in many different colors. It’s also normal for the plant to change color as it grows. This is because the coral succulent is made up of two different plants. The color on top completely depends on the variety used.

When Will My Coral Cactus Bloom

Don’t hold your breath waiting for your coral cactus to produce flowers. The plant rarely flowers, and when it does, you may not notice the tiny buds! Typically, only older and larger coral cacti produce flowers and they are usually pink or purple and grow in clusters. If you’re lucky to experience a coral cactus flower bloom, it occurs in spring and summer.

Crested Euphorbia, Coral Cactus succulent, kind of tropical plant.

Coral cacti can produce flowers, but it’s rare. The flowers grow in clusters and are tiny.

©enrouteksm/Shutterstock.com

Caring for a Coral Cactus

Considering this unique succulent are two plants grafted together, you would think caring for them would be hard. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Coral cacti are easy, despite their strange appearance. They don’t require a lot of water and aren’t picky plants. Although this is true, without the right conditions, they won’t reach their full potential. Follow along to learn more about caring for a coral cactus including how to graft and propagate this unique plant.

Coral cactus (Euphorbia lactea Cristata, mermaid tail) plants

Despite their appearance, coral cacti are easy to take care of.

©CoinUp/Shutterstock.com

Watering

First, let’s start with learning how to water these cabbage-like plants. Although this plant doesn’t require a lot of watering compared to other plants, they still need frequent watering. It’s not fully drought-tolerant. You shouldn’t let the top 2 to 4 inches of the soil dry completely like you can with some cactus species. Instead, water the plant deeply. The soil should not be soaked though. Too much water can drown the roots and increase humidity, bringing in pests and diseases. Water the soil, but not the plant directly. The excess water on top of the plant coupled with direct sunlight can cause burns.

If you forget to water your plant and it looks dry, don’t worry! If it’s for a short period, your coral cactus can bounce back. It’s also best to underwater your plant instead of over water.

A closeup of a small yellow watering can on wooden table.

Water your coral cactus when the top 2 to 4 inches of the soil is dry.

©iStock.com/Wirestock

Sunlight

Although it’s tempting to want to place your coral cactus outside, too much sunlight can cause sunburns. This plant isn’t a cactus, but two succulents. It grows best in high temperatures and partial shade. If you choose to grow your coral cactus outdoors, choose a location with some shade. This plant, however, isn’t frost tolerant or hardy. It grows best in USDA zones 10 to 11.

When growing this lovely succulent indoors, choose a warm and sunny window with at least 3 to 5 hours of direct sunlight. It’s important to rotate the container though as the plant can begin reaching or drooping to one side.

Nutrition

Coral cacti rarely need extra nutrients or fertilizer. However, if you want to give your plant an extra boost, you can add a cactus or succulent-friendly liquid fertilizer once a month in spring and summer. The lower the amount you use the closer you get to fall. During winter, don’t add fertilizer to your coral cacti as the plant steps into its dormant period.

Soil-Type

This plant needs well-draining and airy soil. If the soil is too thick, it can retain too much water, drowning the plant’s roots. You can purchase succulent soil in most gardening and landscaping stores. However, you can modify and add other materials to the soil. For instance, if the plant is outdoors and you live in an area where it can get cold, mulch on the top layer of the soil can protect the plant’s roots.

Rarely do coral succulent owners need to repot their plants. This plant is slow-growing and barely reaches 15 inches at most. However, if your plant is sick, you can repot it with fresh soil to reduce the chances of diseases and pests.

Pests and Diseases

Sadly, without proper care, your coral cactus can suffer from diseases and pest problems. Some of the most common pests that mess with coral cacti are mealy bugs and spider mites. Pests aren’t very common, but they can harm your plant’s growth. If you notice any mealy bugs on your plant, you can use rubbing alcohol to remove the pests with a cotton swab. You don’t need a lot. If you use too much rubbing alcohol, it can burn or dry out the coral succulent.

The most common disease to strike coral cacti is root rot. However, root rot is completely preventable. Sometimes, root rot is caused by the container. Ensure your container has enough drainage holes. Some have built-in buckets that retain water. If possible, choose a container without one as the trapped water can drown the roots. Fungal infections can also harm your plant and occur when there is too much humidity. Sometimes, fungal infections and other diseases are spread from old containers. Completely sterilize and clean your containers before reusing them to pot plants.

How to Graft a Coral Cactus

Since the coral cactus doesn’t naturally exist, you can’t propagate the beautiful plant from a cutting or seed. Instead, you need to graft the plant if you have the right succulents. To graft a coral cactus, start with healthy Euphorbia neriifolia and Euphorbia lactea.

It’s best to choose young plants as they are more successful. It’s easier to start with the Euphorbia neriifolia. With a sterile knife, cut a “V” shape into the plant and remove the top. The Euphorbia lactea will sit in the “V” shape. Afterward, cut the lactea with an arrowhead-like shape cut so that it snugly fits in the Euphorbia neriifolia’s opening. There should be no open spaces. If there are open spaces, a fungal infection can form.

Wear gloves and spread grafting wax on the joining surfaces. As it dries and the plants fuse, use twine to keep them tightly together. In 2 to 3 weeks, check the plant to see if it has grafted successfully. Sometimes, this process can take up to a month.


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About the Author

Nixza Gonzalez is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics like travel, geography, plants, and marine animals. She has over six years of experience as a content writer and holds an Associate of Arts Degree. A resident of Florida, Nixza loves spending time outdoors exploring state parks and tending to her container garden.

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