Winter white in the garden

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A brilliant blue sky perfectly sets off the charm
of Euphorbia leucocephala, the little
Christmas flower.

Call it little Christmas flower, snowbush or snowflake, or flor de leche, this shrub is in full glory now in the garden.  Several together are dazzling in their showiness, especially when seen against a deep blue winter sky.

Euphorbia leucocephala, a poinsettia relative, is as dependable as its red cousin when it comes to telling us the season. Delicate white bracts surround tiny green flowers, just as red bracts surround the bundles of flowers, or cyathia, on poinsettias.  This lovely shrub near the Visitors Center, which has a delicate perfume, is actually native to Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. It’s twigs, which produce whorls of leaves, are slender and delicate, and may lean under the weight of so many flowers. The “leucocephala” part of its name means “white head.”

The good news: It takes average water and fertilizer in an area with good drainage. Grow it in full sun and prune after it flowers to keep it shapely. As with the poinsettia, you may want to prune this a couple of times before fall.

From a distance, the shrubs are dazzling.