Cactus and succulents Gardening Houseplants

Madagascar Jewel: The Pass-Along Succulent

Madagascar jewel (Euphorbia leuconeura). Photo:

You’ve never heard of the Madagascar jewel (Euphorbia leuconeura)? I’m not surprised. It’s a fairly obscure houseplant, certainly not one you see often in garden centers. However, it is making the rounds in a parallel system … as a pass-along plant. A neighbor, friend or relative gives you one, then you grow it and produce baby plants that you give to someone else. And it’s been spreading that way for years, as I can recall first seeing it about at a plant exchange about 30 years ago.

How do I know that this plant is so widely grown? People keep sending me photos with the question, “What is this plant?” Or they bring a specimen or cutting to a lecture I’m giving and ask if I know it. It’s instantly recognizable. 

There really isn’t anything jewellike about a mature Madagscar jewel, here one with several branches. Photo: Tommy Kronkvist, Wikimedia Commons

Oddly, I didn’t even know this plant had a common name under I decided to research this article. I’d always known it simply as Euphorbia leuconeura, which would translate as white-nerved euphorbia. The name Madagascar jewel is rather a silly one, actually. Yes, it does come from Madagascar, but I fail to anything jewellike about it. A jewellike plant would be small and kinda cute, don’t you think? But Madagascar jewel is big and rather thuggish.


E. leuconeura is a succulent shrub, even a small tree, reaching to 1.8 m (6 ft) in height. Although commonly mistaken for a cactus, it’s actually a member of the euphorbia family (Euphorbiaceae).

Juvenile plant with white nerves. Photo:

Young plants bear tear-shaped leaves with brilliant white nerves and a reddish petiole. The white coloration fades over time and the nerves become green. The petioles, though, retain their reddish tinge, most visible in strong light. Mature leaves are dark green and leathery, measuring up to 15 cm (6 inches) long and 6.5 cm (2 ½ in) wide. They too sometimes have a reddish tinge, especially if you grow the plant in bright light.

Over time, the stem thickens and becomes angular. Photo: Reda Tomingas, Flickr

On young plants, the stem is tubular and green or reddish, but soon thickens and then develops 4 to 5 distinct angles with brown hairy edges. It remains green with pale brown crescent-shaped marks where old leaves were once attached. The stem grows straight up at first, only branching after several years or if pruned.

The flowers aren’t too impressive: you have to get in close to even notice them. Photo: Baja-Costero,

After a year or so, the plant begins producing abundant clusters of tiny insignificant white flowers without any petals at the axils of the upper leaves. They’re not attractive, but soon produce seed capsules that open explosively, shooting seeds up to 2 m (7 feet) away. The seeds germinate readily and soon baby plants begin popping up in the pots of all the houseplants nearby, even in the garden if the plant is outdoors for the summer. If you don’t want the plant to self-sow, pinch off the seed capsules.

E. leuconeura is apparently endangered in the wild, although hardly so in culture!

Growing Your Own Madagascar Jewel

This is a widely adapted plant, easy to grow indoors. 

It prefers bright light to full sun, but will tolerate shade. Under low light, expect the plant to be floppy and requite staking. 

Young specimens of Euphorbia leuconeura. Photo:

Although this plant is a succulent and tolerant of dry soils, it doesn’t seem to mind regular watering either. In fact, plants grown too dry will lose more of their lower leaves (sometimes even all of their leaves) and will be less attractive than specimens grown in soil that is kept slightly moist. Just follow the golden rule of watering: water deeply, enough to moisten the entire root ball, then allow the soil to dry before watering again.

What Madagascar jewel doesn’t like are cold temperatures, below 10?C (50?F). In fact, keep it above 15?C (60?F) at all times if at all possible. 

You can grow it in just about any potting mix: either a regular houseplant blend or cactus and succulent mix. You’ll probably need to repot young plants annually into larger and larger pots. Use heavy pots for big specimens, as they become top-heavy.

Fertilize your Madagascar jewel if you want, using the fertilizer of your choice, but do so lightly and during the main growing season only (spring through early fall). It will also get along fine without any fertilizer.

It’s perfectly happy with dry indoor air, so there is no need to increase the atmospheric humidity. It will, however, readily tolerate the higher humidity most other houseplants need.

Seedlings sprout pretty much everywhere. Photo:

As for multiplication, it usually does that on its own, seeding itself about not only in its own pot, but in those of other plants. Baby plants thus produced can then be potted up separately. You can also catch the seeds (try bagging the plant with an organza sack) and sow them, barely covering them with potting mix. They germinate in about a month at warm temperatures (22 to 25?C/72 to 77?F). You can also take cuttings if for some strange reason you need even more plants.

When pruning, wear googles and protective gloves, as the milky white sap is irritating and toxic. If you get any on your skin, simply wash it off. Keep this plant out of reach of children and pets. 

If your plant is so tall it needs staking, it’s probably best to start a new one. Photo: MiniHamster5,

Honestly, the best way of growing this plant, which gets big and ungainly over time, is to get rid of mature specimens when they take up too much space and simply replace them with one of the abundant young ones that appear everywhere.

I would not recommend growing this plant outdoors in a tropical climate (it is only hardy to USDA zones 10 and above and prefers arid to semi-arid conditions). It’s far too invasive!

Where to Find Plants 

A lot of nurseries won’t grow Madagascar Jewel, considering it too weedy, but you can find plants and seeds online not only from specialist succulent nurseries, but also from such providers as eBay and Etsy.

And, of course, you can easily find specimens at plant exchanges, in flea markets or through your local garden club. Just show a photo at any plant meeting (no use comes from asking for this plant by either its common name or botanical one: few owners know  either!) and hands will rise. Yes, for an obscure plant, Madagascar jewel is actually amazingly common.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

53 comments on “Madagascar Jewel: The Pass-Along Succulent

  1. I have one of these and it is constantly making buds/flowers but they always wither afterwards and do not produce seeds. Any idea why that could be and how I can get my jewel to make seeds for me?

    • Hi Sam. Since the seeds literally ‘fly’ off the plant, do you have a surface around the plant to ‘capture’ them? Most of the seeds on my plants are found all over the place, other than the pot they came from, so I’m constantly scooping them off the shelves, sills, and all other surfaces around. i’ve never found any seeds still in the pod they came from. Hope this helps!!

  2. Titus fowler

    I have one that is outside in a pot, can I move it right inside?

  3. Hi,
    Thank you for this informative article. Do you know how long the seeds of a M. Jewel plant can stay viable for?
    I intended to collect the seeds from my indoor specimen and may be plant them next year. Do you think they will still be viable till next spring?
    Any light that you can shed on this topic would be greatly appreciated.
    Best regards,

  4. Thank you very much for this very good description and for the comments. I found my answers. I will follow your blog – I’m very curious to read your info about lots of other plants.

  5. Rhandy Jannusch

    So fun to have found this site!!! I have had mine for about 15 years, it is about 4.5 feet tall with 3 lower branches. One of the three broke off while I was repotting it. It bled its milky sap for a bit but healed just fine. The piece that broke I let the end dry for about 4-5 days and planted to dirt. It took awhile to set but is finally doing quite well although my mother plant has gone into major droop. I thought it might have bugs so I sprayed really good with insecticidal soap, now it seems to be very ?? unhappy, seems the bottom lower type leaves are turning yellow and dropping. Never seen this attitude from my Maddie before. The soil seems to be hanging onto the water also which is concerning me. I live in Ashland, Or. and the weather has been quite hot but we have ac. Any thought would be greatly appreciated.

  6. In Germany, their common name is ‘Spuckpalme’, translating to “spitting palm tree’.

  7. Beth, mine lost all its leaves once, but they came back. It was due to forest fire smoke outside, very sensitive plant. Peggy

  8. Can propagate a new plant using the “stalk”/cactus-like part?

    I have an older plant that lost all its leaves a few months ago. I have continued watering it in hopes it would come back, but it hasn’t. Now I’m noticing that the stalk/cactus part is starting to rot from the bottom up. 🙁

    The plant does have a newer “branch” at the top. i am wondering if I can save this and propagate with it? If so, would I immerse the base in water, or bury it in soil?

    • Do try and take a cutting from the healthy part. Root it in soil, certainly not water. Use dry soil. Wait 2 or 3 weeks before you start watering. And let it dry out before you water again. This is the kind of plant where, when something goes wrong, you should stop watering rather than continue.

      • Thank you so much for getting back to me. I will give that a try and see if I can resurrect it. I am hoping so, as it is an interesting plant to own. I originally bought it as a tiny seedling that was labeled “mystery plant”. It took several rounds of searching online to finally identify what it was.

  9. Can anyone tell me if the plant on the right side of the Tommy Kronkvist photo is also the same plant? I’ve spent months trying to find what kind of plant I acquired is and that is the first one I’ve seen that is identical to mine

  10. Marie Gatzmer

    My Madagascar Jewel has white spots on it. I thought maybe it was infested. I washed the leaves in soapy water. Then I read to put a solution of peroxide and water in the dirt. Now I have white spores on the leaves and all the little flowers have fallen off. I tried to root leaves I water, not working. HELP, I don’t want to lose my plant.

    • It could be insect damage. A tiny little puncture by a insect’s “mouth” could lead to yellowing cells all around the wound and therefore to spotting. Check with a magnifying glass. If it’s a disease, it’s probably not very harmful: plant diseases rarely go far indoors. Usually, you can just ignore them and they’ll go away on their own. You can’t root this plant from leaves.

  11. I was watching a home tour with a young woman from Siberia. She found this plant on the street in a rubbish bin, with one or two leaves, brought it home and now she has made it thrive. She but did not know what it is. I thought it looked so frangipani like but not the trunk. I will send her this page to research.

  12. Flower girl

    My Madagascar Jewel has droopy leaves all of the sudden. I think it got too cold sitting in my window when we had extreme low temps. I have moved it to a warmer spot and it seems to be perking up a bit. Will it eventually grow new leaves? It also just spit out some seeds.

  13. If the madagaskar jewel stalk is very thin at the bottom and becomes square above the thin part,(Leggy it’s called I think?) can you bury the thin part? And thus give it more support?

  14. I have multitudinous Madagascar Jewels, also called The Spitting Dragon. Two of my babies grew to be tall and gangly. I was moving and knew they might not Mae it. In a rush I sawed the long neck in the middle and hoped for the best. After re locating I took the top halves and stuck them pots of soil. It took awhile but eventually they started growing again. So too did the bottom halves sprouting leafy arms. Multiple babies have been potted as starters and donated to fund raisers. Very popular plant and easy to grow. Mostly lots of indirect light and regular watering.

  15. Hello! Thank You for this text. I enjoyed reading it.

    I have a question. How many years can it take for a euphorbia leuconeura to reach 1.8 meters as an indoor plant? Is it possible?
    I was gifted the plant 15 years ago. It was already pruned and i have pruned it back again because the branches got so heavy that they were about to break. I have recently started to sow the seeds. Fun plant but seem too me very slow growing?

    Thank You

    • If you give it a bigger and bigger pot as it grows and water it regularly, though never to excess, in full sun, it can reach that height in 2 to 3 years.

  16. Sylvia Klassen

    Hi there, thanks for the great info. I have had this plant for years. Yesterday I noticed all the leaves turnning yellow (but new green shoots at the top of the plant). Today it is dropping all the leaves. Is this normal? What do you think is happening?

    • It probably dried out a bit too much. This may push it into dormancy, causing leaf loss, but it will soon recover and produce new leaves.

  17. Hi guys,

    I loved the information, but still looking for some tips to make my jewel look more full.

    Mine is doing really well, looks healthy with a full canopy of green leaves. However it keeps growing from a single stem; the main stem that grows straight up.

    I’d like the main stem to grow some branches to fill out my jewel, if you know what I mean. I’ve seen examples of jewels that grew multiple branches that grow leaves of their own.

    Anyone has some experience to stimulate this growth? Is pruning it an option? Or do I just have to be patient?

    Any advice is appreciated!

    • You’d have to prune. I’m not saying that plants don’t occasionally branch in their youth, but the vast majority will produce only one stem until they reach a considerable height. In nature, it’s mature specimens (trees) that produce branches. Pruning, though, will force even a young plant to produce a new “leader” and most of the time, a branch or two as well.

      • Tanya Veness

        I have four plants in the same pot and it looks nice and full. Any time I put seedlings in a pot to give away, I always put in 3 or four of similar size. 🙂

  18. Kerry L O'Gorman

    I have had one for over 10 years. It’s about 4 feet tall and very bushy. It has about 5 branches coming off of it. I thought I would try to propagate one so basically broke it off of the mother plant and let the cutting heel over for 3 days then put some rooting hormone on it and planted it in potting soil. It did very well and so I gave it to a friend. I have also transplanted the babies from the seeds it shoots everywhere. They need to be very well established before transplanting though. Also a note: THE SEEDS ARE POISONOUS SO KEEP AND EYE ON THEM AND YOUR PETS!!

  19. This is so far the best description I have found, thank you so much! I have read it is possible to help it make more branches so it can grow into a more ornamental plant, but so far I have not find any explanation on how to do this. Do you have any ideas ? 🙂

  20. Karla Andrich

    Thank you for this detailed writeup. I got given a mostly dormant juvenile about a year back and it’s taken until now for it to get past four leaves at a time. Funny that you called it a “pass along” since this one had two owners before me. 😉

  21. I have a 2 foot jewel and just discovered a whitefly infestation on most of the upper leaves. In a rash decision, I put the plant outside in the Wisconsin cold for an hour to quickly kill the flies. The flies are certainly dead but most of the leaves have gone limp. Did I kill the plant as well or do you think it will perk back up?

    • You’ll have to wait and see. It may take months to react (no kidding!), but it its alive, new leaves will eventually. Keep it distinctly on the dry side for now.

    • I got my jewel, which is also about 2 feet and it had greenhouse cockroaches in it. I got rid of the cockroaches but I thought they had killed the plant because all my leaves went limp. I continued care as I normally would and it seems to be perking up and has about 3 new leaves! Hopefully yours perks up!

  22. Maria Nevacshonoff

    I have two jewel plants about 2 years old! They have been spewing seeds out like crazy! I can hardly wait till they all sprout! I’d hear them fall, sweep them up or pick off window sill and plNt them! Should have close to 20 seedling coming in a month! I think they are the neatest plant!

  23. I’ve had one of these cute babies for two years, it was growing big and strong, with 20+ healthy leaves and new growth coming in. Sadly, suddenly it lost all of its leaves except 2 while I was on vacation. I had watered it regularly/thoroughly before I left, but I do live in Portland where smoke made horrible air quality and blocked the sun’s strong rays for almost two weeks. Do you know what could’ve killed it? Is it possible it could bounce back? You seem very knowledgeable, I appreciate your help 🙂

    • I don’t think two weeks of smoky air and reduced light would cause more than a bit of leave loss. It lacked water and went into dormancy, that’s all, a state perfectly normal for a succulent. Just water modestly (not too much: it will need to grow new roots before it will be able to use a lot of moisture) and it should slowly recover.

      • Thank you for your help!! I will definitely water it modestly and try to nurture it back to where it was ?

    • I work at a public library in Southern Oregon; during wildfire season we had a broken window in our upper level that let in a lot of smoke, and our Madagascar Jewel lost all it’s leaves too despite regular watering. They all grew back as soon as the air quality improved and has been fine ever since. I’d always assumed it was all about the awful smoke last summer.

    • Mine came back after the smoke from the fires caused the leaves to fall off! Just keep watering as you normally would and the leaves will come back! Mine is full and lush again. I don’t think anything can kill these things!

    • Jessie, I also live in Portland and all the leaves fell off during the September 2020 wildfires. I emailed the local woman (a former botanist and) who gave me the baby plant and hers had the same reaction. Definitely due to smoke. And it has come back beautifully.

  24. Invasive?! Oh my! I was unable to grow it from cutting like other euphorbs. I would have been pleased to find a few seedlings though. I wanted copies because the original plant needed to be removed from an apartment building in Los Angeles. Since I could not propagate it, I canned the original. When my colleague there finally got a few cuttings to survive, the canned original was pruned back in one last attempt to renovate it, but as you say, the cuttings grew into new plants that perform better than the original recovered.

  25. The baby plants are pretty cute (like all babies). It was very kind of you to call the adult plant ungainly. I would have been much more brutal!

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