Cactus and succulents Light Needs of Plants

Three Years in the Dark and Still Alive!

Almost four years ago, a crested euphorbia (Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’) I was growing toppled over, too top heavy for its small pot. I moved it away from the plant light it grew under and propped it up in a corner on a shelf in the storage area of my basement, figuring I’d get around to repotting it soon. Then a box was put in front of it (I’m sure how that happened) and the plant disappeared from sight. 

Out of sight, out of mind, they say. Well, in this case, they were right! I totally forgot about it. It spent a little over three years in the dark without a drop of water. Most of the time, the storage area is only lit indirectly by a few plant lights on the far side of the room and occasionally by a ceiling light if someone is looking for something down there, but behind a box as it had been, the plant would have been in total darkness essentially the whole three years.

Then I found it last September when I went looking for a bag of sphagnum moss (which I never did find).

Still Alive

The crested euphorbia (Euphorbia lactea‘Cristata’, left, is a mutation of the candelabra euphorbia (E. lactea), right. Photo: &

Amazingly, the crested euphorbia looked perfectly fine. It was still dark green, just like when I stuffed it into its corner. It had put on no etiolated growth and seemed as plump as ever. (Plump in a hard way: this kind of euphorbia, with its nasty little spines, is not a plant you’ll be wanting to squeeze!) 

I quickly repotted it and moved to a sunny spot. 

Nothing happened. Through fall and winter, it didn’t react at all. I watered it modestly, so it was getting some water, but no growth was visible. I wasn’t even sure it was really alive: maybe it had died and had undergone some sort of plant mummification that kept it looking … well, not exactly alive, but not dead either.

Then, on the first day of spring, I could see from across the room something seemed different. A closer inspection showed that it was putting out tiny new leaves. Yes, it’s starting to grow again! Undoubtedly the lengthening days had told the plant it was time to wake up and get to business.

Don’t Do This at Home!

Now, I’m not recommending that you stick your crested euphorbia or any other plant in a dark corner for three years without watering it at all, but it would appear that this plant is much, much tougher than I would ever have thought.

It would certainly be a great plant choice for snowbirds*!

*Snowbird: person who migrates annually from colder climates to a tropical one for the winter, then back again in the spring.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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