Firestick Cactus: The Plant With Acid Sap!

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Image: H. Zell

The Firestick plant garnered some unwelcome publicity in late July 2010, by injuring Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. Pastor Warren’s mistake was to prune his plant, get sap on his hands, and then rub his forehead. The sap caused pain in his eyes, and he needed emergency treatment.

What is this dangerous plant? How can you protect yourself?


Image: H. Zell

Meet the Firestick

Firestick goes by several aliases, including “Indian Tree Spurge”, “Milk Bush”, “Naked Lady” and “Pencil Tree”. It is a succulent cactus – where “succulent” means “fleshy” or “juicy” but not in the sense of “appetizing” or “tasty”. The stem and leaves are, indeed, full of a milky sap. However, the sap is best described as corrosive, irritating, or toxic.

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Image: Ralph Hockens

Firestick grows in semi-arid climates, and can survive low temperatures that are just below freezing. They easily grow past 60cm, often to 2m and sometimes more. The most stunning characteristic is the colour scheme. The stems might be green, but the blooms range from pale yellow to fiery red.

Different people report variations in growth and in toxicity of the sap. This might be due to growing different varieties of the plant, or to different allergic sensitivities among people.

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