Sticks on Fire and Donkey Tail

sticks on fire (Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire')

sticks on fire (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’)

I was driving on Vine Street in Hollywood the other day and there I saw it: a beat-up van with all manner of junk hammered or soldered onto doors, fenders and roof.
Occasionally, you see such outlandish creations in Los Angeles, moving vehicular works of collage art that make you stop and stare.
But the van I saw in Hollywood had a botanical flair in the form of two special horticultural adornments: `Sticks on Fire’ (Euphorbia tirucalii ‘Sticks on Fire’) on the front bumper and `Donkey Tail’ suspended from the back of the roof. These are two of the toughest plants money can buy. They are among a host of exotic, water-thrifty succulents which, given the rising price of water, have become increasingly popular not only for decorating vans but as regular garden fare.
Euphorbia tirucalli `Sticks on Fire’ is a colorful cultivar of the pencil tree. This plant consists entirely of stems.
Although the standard pencil tree is dull green, `Sticks on Fire’ possesses stems that glow in yellow, orange and pink. It is easily propagated by breaking off pieces and inserting them into fast-draining soil, and is especially suited to container growing. Like many other succulents, it grows in full to partial sun locations. Still, it prefers less-than-all-day sun in the hot valleys that spread to the east and to the north of downtown Los Angeles.
While the standard pencil tree can reach a height of 20 feet or more, `Sticks on Fire’ takes on a dense, squat, burning-bush appearance as it matures.
Sedum morganianum `Donkey Tail’ grows slowly and elegantly enough to assume the status of an heirloom plant. Many years ago, your grandmother may have had a `Donkey Tail’ specimen growing in a hanging basket on her patio. That same `Donkey Tail’ might have been passed down to you.
You, too, will grow it on a patio, protected from too much wind, heat and cold.
The tails of grandma’s plant probably have thickened over time while a few new tails — they grow downward to 4 feet long — may have developed in the process. These tails actually are chains of fat, 3/4-inch, light porcelain green leaves.
You can start your own `Donkey Tail’ by detaching some of these leaves and laying them over the surface of quick-draining soil in a small flower pot. Eventually, the leaves will root, other leaves will grow out from them, and chains of leaves will start to trail down over the edges of the pot.
If you want to grow `Donkey Tail’ or any other plant in a hanging basket, you can make one yourself with a wire basket and green sphagnum moss, both available at most nurseries. Line the basket with the moss and fill it with your favorite potting soil. You can also find wire baskets with fiber shells already in place so all you have to do is add soil and the plants of your choice.
Dozens of everyday plants will take on special pendulous effects when planted in hanging baskets, especially ground covers such as ivy, gazania, pink clover (Polygonum capitatum), trailing rosemary, trailing lantana, licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare), verbena, and bacopa; also, annuals such as alyssum, lobelia, petunia, million bells (Calibrachoa) and impatiens.
For exotic succulents that trail and spill out of hanging baskets and balcony containers, visit California Nursery Specialties, open to the public on weekends only, at 19420 Saticoy St. in Reseda. For more information, call (818) 894-5694.
Reader question
I am looking for an evergreen climbing vine of 10 feet or more that has scented flowers. My property is bordered by tall trees and our fence gets filtered sunlight during the day.
>Harvey Hunziker, West Hills
Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is custom-made for your situation.
Aided by shoot terminals, it can climb higher than 20 feet and is a generous producer of white, fragrant, pinwheel flowers in late spring and early summer. In the Valley, it grows best in the sort of filtered sun that reaches your fence.
Make sure you bring home plants from the nursery that are growing on stakes. This will save you the trouble of training your star jasmine to grow vertically since, left to its own devices, it sprawls like a ground cover.
Placed close to a chain-link fence, it would twine its way up with minimal assistance. If your fence is made of wooden boards, however, you might want to stretch baling wire or plastic fishing line at regular intervals (at vertical increments of 8 to 12 inches) so the shoots have something to grasp onto as they grow. Space plants 5 feet apart when planting.
Tip of the week
When planting in containers or hanging baskets, sprinkle slow-release fertilizer over the soil surface after the plants are in place. This is the easiest way to fertilize since it eliminates decision making as to when to fertilize next. You simply wait until the fertilizer granules on the soil surface have disappeared before adding more.

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