Arno KingBaby’s breath euphorbias

Many new plants get released to the public each year and often they are promoted as doing well ‘throughout Australia”. Of course there are few, if any, plants that will grow in the many climatic zones across the country, and few of these introductions thrive in subtropical and tropical areas which have summer dominant rainfall. A great exception of recent years has been the release of the Baby’s Breath Euphorbia, Euphorbia hypericifolia. It was first introduced to us as the cultivar ’Diamond Frost’ by Proven Winners and has proved to be a real garden winner!

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost'

Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’

I recently went to a Nursery Trade Day in Brisbane and discovered 2 new cultivars of this Euphorbia offered for sale. They weren’t labelled or promoted so I wonder if the public will ever recognise that there are more of these plants about. I’m sure if they did they would buy them. After a lot of research I believe I purchased ‘Star Dust White Sparkle’ and ‘Pink Stardust’. I hope these cultivars will get better promotion in the future as I believe the gardeners would like to grow more of these plants. I was only told they were more compact than ‘Diamond Frost’

Euphorbia hypericifolia seems to be a ‘dream plant for gardeners in warmer climates. The flowers resemble Baby’s Breath, and cover tidy mounded plants. They flower continuously all year round with absolutely no maintenance required. Imagine – no watering, no feeding, no pests, no diseases, no deadheading, and no pruning. But of course if you want the plant to look picture-perfect, some maintenance does pay dividends.

It will grow in either sun or shade. In the sun it is a small compact bush with bright green leaves. In the shade it is a wide spreading and open groundcover and the leaves are a greyish-green colour.

The plants are incredibly drought hardy. They look so lush and delicate you would think they would be water guzzlers. I have seen them in pots or hanging baskets where I am sure they have been severely neglected, however they have looked perfect.

They also tolerate heat – dry heat and wet heat. They have been really tested this summer with the former, and the last 2 summers with the latter. What’s more, they are said to be salt tolerant as well.

Euphorbia hypericifolia 'Diamond Frost' in a border in full sun

Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Diamond Frost’ in a border in full sun

Where did this plant come from? You won’t find it in any gardening books. For some strange reason, it seems to have been missed by gardeners all these years. This is strange, as Euphorbia hypericifolia has a very wide natural distribution, from the southern USA, throughout Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and down through South America to Argentina and Chile.

It may have come from nowhere, but’ Diamond Frost’ has been one of the most successful plant releases in the last couple of decades and has won over 35 awards. It was first promoted as an annual plant, but of course, it is a perennial in warm temperate, subtropical and tropical areas. In cooler climates the plant can be used as a fast growing summer annual or grown in a pot and placed under cover or in a greenhouse over winter.

The cultivars I am aware of that are currently available in Australia are:

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' with Strobilanthes dyerianus and Senecio crassisimus

Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ with Strobilanthes dyerianus and Senecio crassisimus

‘Diamond Frost’ – The original introduction developed by Proven Winners. White flowers and open growth. Generally grows 200 (8 inches) to 500 (20 inches) high by 500 (20 inches) to 1m (3 and a half feet) wide. A trim once or twice a year will keep the plant dense and within bounds. I have never pruned my plant and it forms an attractive groundcover almost 3 metres across and in parts almost 1m high where it grows up against shrubs.

‘Star Dust Pink Glitter’ – developed by Dummen USA/Red Fox flowers have a deep pink stripe down each white bract. They look pinkish from a distance. The leaves have interesting splashes of rusty red on them. This plant is said to have a denser growth habit than ‘Diamond Frost’, however in warmer climates I would allow for much the same growth habit.

‘Star Dust White Sparkle’- also developed by Dummen USA/Red Fox. It has more rounded white bracts and is said to be more compact in growth.

‘Silver Fog’ – also developed by Dummen USA/Red Fox. It has more silvery foliage and is said to be more compact in growth. It was released a couple of years ago, but had little marketing. I only recently heard it was in the country. It has been quite popular overseas.

There are many more cultivars available overseas and I hope a few more will reach our shores in the future. I’m particularly keen to see ‘Manaus White’ hit the nurseries as I believe it has great potential as a landscape plant. The plant has larger, whiter flowers and grows a lot larger. I also hope that it will be sold with a label and will get some promotion by the nurseries.

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' in a shaded location

Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ in a shaded location

Baby’s Breath Euphorbia grows readily from cuttings. So if you have the time and patience, you can propagate a few plants to make a mass planting in the garden. However, be aware, most plants are covered by Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) so it is illegal to propagate to sell them unless you have a license.

These euphorbias offer great potential for the gardener. There are few other perennials that have such a fine texture in flower or foliage and that thrive in warm summer rainfall areas. I can imagine they would be a great asset to cottage gardens, perennial borders and formal gardens. However they are also wonderful for those really tough areas where plants seldom thrive – areas with shallow soil, public streetscapes and medians. How about tucking them into the cracks in a dry stone wall? I think they would be superb.

Euphorbia 'Diamnond Frost' with Weigela 'Wine and Roses'. Photo by Proven Winners, USA

Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ with petunias, azalea & Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’. Photo Proven Winners, USA

In the States they have proved to be very successful for growing with roses. They have shallow root systems and are non-competitive. They also provide a wonderful foil for these plants. How about mixing them with annuals or other bedding plants with complementary flower colours?

Pots and hanging baskets seem to be where these plants shine. They are so tough, they suit the most neglectful gardener. Imagine combining them with summer flowering bulbs such as the White Storm Lily (Zephyrathes candida) in a wide shallow container. Mass plant it in informal drifts as a complement to elegant grasses or tall salvias.

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' with pentas Photo Proven Winners

Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ with pentas Photo Proven Winners

I recently saw it at a display at Spring Fields Garden Centre, massed around a group of Red Mandevilleas in full flower. Noel Burdette certainly picked up the Christmas spirit with this combination.

Well Baby’s Breath Euphorbia will certainly prove to be a winner for those gardens who like a more romantic, soft planting and enjoy a cottage garden style. It seems the plant ticks all the boxes so I expect we will see a lot more of it in gardens around the country in the future. I hope it will be used in inspired ways and in thoughtful planting combinations. Neglectful gardener or tricky garden spot – this is the plant for you.

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Arno King

About Arno King

Landscape architect, horticulturist, journalist and keen gardener, Arno is a regular contributor to Subtropical Gardening Magazine. Based in Brisbane, Arno grows a wide diversity of unusual plant species and has particular interests in growing edible plants in creative settings and biological and organic gardening. Brisbane, Queensland

16 thoughts on “Baby’s breath euphorbias

  1. Hi Arno,
    My garden is at Bilpin in the Blue Mountains and I really enjoy using Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” but frost is the key word. As soon as we have one the Euphorbia is no more. I’m really happy to use it as an annual. It’s the perfect filler here and far easier than Gypsophila which I saw growing very well out of a crack in a set of steps in Scotland. Scotland this aint. Thank you for an interesting article.
    Peta Trahar

    • Arno King on said:

      Hello Peta

      Great to hear you are using ‘Diamond Frost’ in the Blue Mountains.

      While you use it as a temporary filler, I do the same thing with some plants that you would grow readily. I love culinary sage and its variegated cultivars. It hates our wet summers, I can get a good 9 months out of it if I.plant it just as the weather cools.

  2. dirtgirl on said:

    I purchased Euphorbia Diamond Frost a couple of years back and thought it would look great in a large pot. Not to be, it gradually died off, so after a severe talking to and last chance option I placed it in to the ground in an area that was pretty bare and needed a spark. Well Diamond Frost certainly did that and it has just gone from strength to strength and filled a whole bed. It just looks so pretty encasing other brightly coloured flowers, geraniums, marigolds etc. Everyone who visits remarks on what a pretty plant it is and so few people seem to know about it.
    We get light frosts here too, south west of Sydney, especially as we are close to a creek, but surprisingly Diamond Frost must be in the right possie as she just keeps on keeping on. It is great to see an article on these lovely plants.

    • Arno King on said:

      Hello Dirtgirl

      its great to hear how ‘Diamond Frost is growing in other climates. I wasn’t sure how much cold it would take. Its good to know it tolerates light frosts.

      I too have a similar large bed of ‘Diamond Frost in my garden. I think it might have covered a few other plants in its path.

  3. robynsnature on said:

    Hello Arno

    You are so right about Diamond Frost it is an amazing plant. I have even just pulled it out where I didn’t want it anymore and literally thrown it up on our unforgiving rock/clay bank and it is growing quite happily in full sun and shade. It is tempting to use it everywhere…..mmmm….

    Robyn

    • Arno King on said:

      Robyn

      I think we soon might see it on some local traffic islands and median strips. It certainly performs well in our climate.

  4. Eugene on said:

    I assume that it doesn’t have weediness potential? Hybridising with other euphorbias to potentially be the next bully on the block?

  5. Arno King on said:

    Hello Eugene

    You have raised a good point and it is worth reviewing these issues.

    There are more than 2000 Euphorbias in the world and as many are ornamental, I would expect more than1/2 of them are already growing in Australia. I have been to plant collections where the owners have specialised in this genus and have tried to amass comprehensive collections over many decades (I know some people will be cringing here!).

    To my knowledge only one species is regarded as a weed in this country and that is E peplus which grows on disturbed sites – the ones we create with our continued ‘development’! I don’t not know of any Euphorbia species that actively colonise our bushland.

    Euphorbia hybrids are also rare. They have specialised flowers and often specific pollinators. I know of collectors who dispair at not being able to set seed on their plants. Natural hybrids seem to be extremely rare.

    Will Euphorbia hypericiflora become a weed. Probably highly unlikely. Something over 10 million foreign plants have been introduced to our shores in the last 150 years (I have 500 plants on my database of commonly grown plants in my climate) and lets face it more were introduces by Indonesians, New Guineans, Torres Straight Isalnders etc before European ‘discovery’. There are collectors who would have several thousand plants of the one family (eg orchids, ferns, palms) in their collections alone.

    Of the ornamental plants that have become weeds, a large proportion were specifically introduced to ‘brighten up our bushland’ and introduced by government agencies who actively encouraged their planting. It was called acclimatisation, and was widely practiced in my region up until the 1950s – 60s.

    As many weed ecologists have pointed out, the big problem is grassland, fodder crops and agricultural introductions which are still being introduced by government bodys and companies. These plants cover large areas of the country but never seem to arouse such emotional anguish as ‘garden thugs’. Many of them are highly flammable and have dire consequences to local ecologies

    The other, possibly bigger issue, is people. The ones who dump weeds in our bushland and create the problem. In recent years it seems to me that the’ blame game’ has been focussed on plants and moved away from people. I guess it is a growing issue in our society where noone wants to take responsibility. How about a campaign to educate the public on the impacts of iresponsibly dumping plants?

    Anyway, back to ‘Diamond Frost’ …. this plant was only recently introduced and it had to go through an extensive screening process. As you know it is now very difficult to introduce new species into this country. We will have to analyse how successful this process will prove to be.

    Early indications are that the plant is well behaved and does not seed madly into local bushland. Keen gardeners are usually a wary lot, so I am sure they will alert us to any potential ‘weediness’ in the future.

  6. Eugene on said:

    Thanks for the reply Arno. Too be honest I was mainly worried about the home garden.

    I did have a euphorbia some years ago that went completely mental and turned into a scourge, but it’s name has escaped me. Small, lime green fluffy heads….not peplus, but peplusy in its weediness. I nailed it in the end. E. pupurea gets around a bit too.

    There is a euphorbia that has invaded the coastal dunes of Victoria and NSW – euphorbia paralias. I quite like it. Seems to fit in nicely to the environs, but it’s not well regarded by the purists in our govt. departments. Seems harmless enough to me.

    My feeling on introduced species is a more benign one. I’m actually all for a new acclimatisation society. Terrific book by Emma Marris – ‘The Rambunctious Garden’. In it she has a chapter on novel eco systems amongst much else like ‘rewilding the wilderness’ and learning how to accept and live with environmental change. A case was made recently to introduce elephants in the NT to control some rabidly growing introduced grass. I love the idea! Why not go for it? No point getting about with a frown on your face all the time.

    The moment we set on foot in this country and displaced the aboriginal regime of management we changed it utterly. No going back. We need to learn to live with our mistakes and I think we can imaginatively improve upon the broader landscape in many areas, but that’s altogether another topic!

  7. Helen Young on said:

    Diamond Frost definitely self-seeds in my Willoughby (Sydney) garden, and I know of another horticulturist in a nearby suburb who found the amount of self-seeding a problem. However, it remains one of my favourite plants and I wouldn’t be without it. I think the seedlings grow rather taller and less compact than the parent. My Diamond frost plants will keep growing up to a metre high if allowed, but a quick chop is an easy fix.

    • Arno King on said:

      Hello Helen

      I have had a similar experience in my garden. I have been growing this plant for the last 5 or so years and have had 3 seedlings appear one year. They generally seem to occur just beside the bush or under it. One other gardener I know has had a similar experience, but in general this seems to be a rare occurance. Perhaps the right pollinator is not around.

      As you noted, seedlings are less compact than the parent cultivar. Whilst I intitially kept these seedlings, I have now composted them.

      The other cultivars of this plant do not seem to have produced any seedlings so far.

  8. Shelley on said:

    I have just been back to Zimbabwe on holiday and was enthralled by Euphorbia Diamond frost. I live in Perth and haven’t seen it in the nurseries. I have been online to see if I can order it from another state with not much luck. Do you have any idea where I could purchase a few plants to enhance my cottagey garden? Many thanks.

    • Liz on said:

      Shelley – did you find any? I too live in Perth and cannot find a supplier. Any information would be great. Thank you.
      Liz

  9. Michele on said:

    Can I just add that native bees absolutely LOVE feeding off euphorbias. I initially started with one and have progressed to lots. They are very hardy in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. We only have rainwater and I keep an eye any any escapees.

  10. Eileen woods on said:

    I have been given whar i think is an euphorbia
    .it is about a metre high on a single stem the leaves are oval with red splotches. I was told not put it in the sunlight. Can you help with a possible name. There are no flowers. Eileen

  11. Anton on said:

    Absolutely love this plant! For me it does everything a faery dainty plant should do but in the most inhospitable climates. We have astronomical summer rains and humidity and Euphorbia hypericifolia carries on and on as though its in an English country garden. We are literally in the tropics.

    I have it in lots of places but it looks right now particularly lovely with large terracotta pots and white Curcuma alismatifolia (Saim tulips) coming through it. An instant formal wedding on the velvetine lawns. It does go so well with terracotta and green lawns and…..

    Thing is it’s too easy. It can end up a bit of an over kill. While not invasive I myself have been tempted to put it absolutely everywhere which makes it look quite frankly exactly that. It is of course completely hardy in the tropics. It forms a clumpy woody sort of base which is quite brittle after a year or two which makes dividing easy. In fact it will often split down there and become loose, so just crack the base in half or three or six and plant, no roots needed. Goes without saying I have given many away and stuck them in far too many places. “Plant rights” are waste of space and with this one you certainly can’t control it as it’s gone global and not through formal trade.

    I have a very much bigger one bought in a plant market in Bangkok where I also bought “diamond frost” the latter which came via Japan apparently. I was expecting things to be magnified ten fold with the big one but the plant is not ever flowering. It does however grow with abandon and is tall enough to act as foil for even things like crotons, bougainvillea, codyline fruticosa. When it flowers (seems to be stimulated by slightly shorter day lengths) it’s magnificent as you get big clouds of pure white on a shrub like plant. There is also a shocking neon pink which I couldn’t fit into my suitcase, but will certainly be going back for.

    I agree, very exciting family of plants!

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