Euphorbia cotinifolia (Caribbean Copper Plant)

Euphorbia cotinifolia (Caribbean Copper Plant)

Scientific Name

Euphorbia cotinifolia L.

Common Names

Caribbean Copper Plant, Caribbean Copper Bush, Smoketree Spurge, Tropical Smoke Bush, Mexican Shrubby Spurge, Red Spurge


Aklema cotinifolia, Alectoroctonum cotinifolium, Euphorbia scotana, Tithymalus cotinifolius

Scientific Classification

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Subfamily: Euphorbioideae
Tribe: Euphorbieae
Subtribe: Euphorbiinae
Genus: Euphorbia


Euphorbia cotinifolia is a tropical shrub usually under 10 feet (3 m) tall but can grow up to 18 feet (5.4 m) tall and be trained as a small tree. The upright gray purplish stems hold on long petioles the thin, slightly fleshy and ovate shaped leaves that are up to 4 inches (10 cm) long, up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide and have a beautiful coppery reddish purple color. Flowering occurs in late spring to mid summer and while the tiny flowers at branch tips are not showy, the small cream to pale yellow bracts stand out attractively out against the red foliage.


USDA hardiness zone 9a to 11b: from 20 °F (−6.7 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Euphorbias are very easy to care for. They require a little pampering to become established, but once they are, they are self-sufficient. In fact, more die from too much care and watering than from neglect. Euphorbias need well-draining soil and lots of sunlight. They are not particular about soil pH, but they cannot tolerant wet soil. Unlike most succulents, Euphorbia does not handle long periods of drought well. It may need weekly watering during the summer. Water whenever the soil is dry several inches below the surface. Water deeply, but don't let them sit in wet soil, which can cause root rot. Add some organic matter or fertilizer to the planting hole. If you are growing them in containers or your soil is poor, feed with a half-strength fertilizer monthly.

Euphorbia can be grown from seed, but they can be difficult to germinate (or even find). It is usually propagated by cuttings. This can be tricky, because of the exuding sap. Rooting hormone is recommended with Euphorbias. They tend to grow problem free, but there are a few pests and diseases to be alert for… – See more at: How to Grow and Care for Euphorbia


Native to Mexico and South America.


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Euphorbia Species, Smoketree Spurge, Mexican Shrubby Spurge, Red Spurge

Family: Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Euphorbia (yoo-FOR-bee-uh) (Info)
Species: cotinifolia (kot-in-ih-FOH-lee-uh) (Info)
Synonym:Aklema cotinifolia
Synonym:Alectoroctonum cotinifolium
Synonym:Euphorbia caracasana
Synonym:Euphorbia cotinoides
Synonym:Tithymalus cotinifolius


Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Water Requirements:

Sun Exposure:


Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual


Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

Allow cut surface to callous over before planting

Seed Collecting:


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Manhattan Beach, California

San Diego, California(2 reports)

Hollywood, Florida(2 reports)

Gardeners' Notes:

On May 1, 2014, vossner from East Texas,
United States (Zone 8a) wrote:

This plant looks so much like smoke tree, cotynus c. but it is a euphorbia. Mine is planted in full sun in well amended soil and requires supplemental water. It is deciduous in my area. Mine is about 6 ft tall and I have the space to let it grow taller. I love this plant.

On Feb 8, 2013, sdjimbob from San Diego, CA wrote:

The Vista and Pasadena comments are accurate. The plants are mostly deciduous in Southern California if the temperature gets under 40, and anything about 36 or less means complete defoliation, and then unattractive bare branches for 2 months at least.

Cuttings have been very easy, and I've had good luck in poor soil.

On Sep 19, 2010, rwhite25 from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

Beautiful plant that loves the Houston summer heat. Does not like a quick change in temperature. I brought a large potted specimen indoors for 1 evening and most of the leaves wilted. Even when returned to the light and heat the older leaves were shed. Mealybug can be a problem but that and mites are easily controlled with systemic sprays.

On Jul 13, 2008, redinque from Pasadena, CA wrote:

Beautiful, beautiful foliage, but requires relatively good soil and moisture. I planted it into the ground in clay dirt around September of last year where it promptly lost all its leaves around November when the temperature dropped to around 40 at night. I live in Los Angeles, CA. The bare branches (at least when it's small) don't look very appealing. It took a long time for the leaves to regrow probably in April or May, and I thought it had died. Slow growing and seems to be a plant better grown in a pot if soil conditions are not that good. I may dig it up and do just that.

On Apr 17, 2008, myrrtle77 from Northampton, MA wrote:

we live in massachusetts,a firm zone 4. we have had our tree
for seven years now. it has reached a height of almost 12', before a good spring pruning. we love her so much,she is the talk of the neighborhood, when she is leafed out. she gets early morning sun and shade the rest of the day and her color is still vibrant and she flowers pretty freely. they do like a fair amount of water,but, we have her pretty root bound, and she still does well. we leave her outside til the first frost is due and then she goes down into our basement for her winter nap. we water her about once a month and bring her up as soon as she starts to leaf out. i have taken cuttings for my mom, who lives in florida and she has rooted them quite easily and grows her plants in full sun in central florida. hope. read more this helps anyone wanting this beautiful plant-we consider it well worth the effort for all its beauty!

On Mar 12, 2007, WebInt from Vista, CA (Zone 10a) wrote:

This is a fast growing Euphorbia that is also called the Caribbean Copper Plant. Can be confused with Cotinus coggygria (Smoke Tree 'Royal Purple') for those not familiar, but break a stem and get the milky sap, you will know it is a Euphorbia. The white flowers really look nice against the red foliage. In SoCal it can grow to 10 feet tall but is deciduous in all but the mildest winters. My plant lost a few smaller stems and defoliated 100% during the 28 degree freeze from Jan 2007. However all large stems have shot out new growth since. So they can handle a 28 degree freeze and recover nicely.

On Sep 30, 2006, lakeshoredrive from Chicago, IL wrote:

This euphorbia's grows quickly from cuttings, overwinters nicely in a greenhouse and the maroon-red leaves look fantasic when grown in mixed containers.

On Sep 27, 2005, BayAreaTropics from Hayward, CA wrote:

The new growth is a satiny vibrant burgundy. Not evergreen or especially drought tolerant. It actually likes more water than most euphobias and responds with fast growth. And should be given plenty of root room if grown in a pot or it grows sparse. Hardy to at least 30 degrees. No pests-at least outdoors.


The species is well known in Central America, where its poisonous sap has been used both as a medicine and a poison. As a medicine, it has been used in folk remedies as both an emetic and cathartic substance. Fishermen have been known to add the sap to water in fishing grounds to stun fish and force them to float to the top. It was also historically used as a poison for arrowheads by the natives of Curaçao. [5]

The sap can cause irritation if it comes into contact with human skin or eyes. [6] If ingested, the sap can cause severe damage to internal organs. [5]

Euphorbia cotinifolia is commonly grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and in pots, due to its colourful and distinctive foliage. It prefers a site with well-drained soil and full sun. While relatively hardy, it does not react well to wind, salt, or frost. [7]

Euphorbia Cotinifolia Care

Size & Growth

Red-leaf euphorbia cotinifolia is a fast-growing plant. It can grow quickly in warm temperatures, reaching a height of 6′ – 8′ feet.

Cutting it back helps maintain shorter, bushier growth with red stems and red heart-shaped leaves.

The reddish color of Euphorbia cotinifolia almost has a copper or rust-colored hue to it.

Flowering and Fragrance

The plant produces tiny flowers with creamy-white petals on pale yellow bracts forming at the tips of the long stems.

Due to their small size, the flowers are not very showy. They don’t produce a fragrance, either, but are interesting to look at.

The plant can flower year-round.

Light & Temperature

Outside of USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11, keep the plant indoors during the winter.

Euphorbia cotinifolia cannot handle frost or extremely dry conditions.

The tropical smoke bush grows best in bright light or full sun, but it can tolerate a little bit of shade.

It prefers warm, humid conditions.

Watering and Feeding

Water regularly throughout the growing season and only use liquid fertilizer during the warmer months.

Unlike most succulents, Euphorbia cotinifolia does not handle long periods of drought well, therefore it’s not very drought tolerant.

If brought inside for the winter, it may not require frequent watering.

Check it every few days, and water as needed.

If the leaves of the Caribbean copper plant start to droop, it’s likely getting too much water.

Soil & Transplanting

Use light and porous well-drained soil to ensure the plant gets optimal drainage.

If the soil contains too much clay or sand, add compost or peat moss to make it more porous.

Repot the plant every year or two, moving up to a larger container as needed.

If allowed to grow, the Caribbean copper plant can reach up to 8’ feet tall and may eventually require a large pot to keep it from tipping over.

Transplant the plant in the late spring, before its bloom time.


To encourage bushier growth, pinch the tops of young plants.

With older plants, trim back the stems in the early spring to force new growth.

NOTE: When grooming the plant, use caution to avoid getting the milky sap on your hands or arms.

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