It’s gopher season

Gopher plant ‘Winter Blush’

Right after the groundhog makes his appearance in Punxsutawney, the gophers start blazing here in Austin. Gopher plant, that is. Formally, and more elegantly, known as Euphorbia rigida, gopher plant is one of my favorite full-sun, hot-spot plants. Its blue-green foliage visually cools things down in summer, although in early spring screaming chartreuse bracts top each stem with a spotlight of color.

This is my first season to try a new cultivar called ‘Winter Blush’, which I picked up at The Natural Gardener last fall. It differs from the species in two ways, neither particularly significant so far as I can tell: its leaves seem a bit longer and narrower, and they’re more densely arranged along the plant’s arm-like stems; and the foliage takes on a pink tinge during the cold months. Look carefully and you can see a bit of pink coloring the leaves at back-left in this photo.

I’ve paired ‘Winter Blush’ gopher plant with Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) and ‘Color Guard’ yucca for a golden-yellow combo that would be better if the feathergrass were blooming in blonde waves right now, rather than still showing its tawny winter dormancy.


A wider view. These gophers are planted at the end of the driveway, and every neighbor who walks by ends up asking what that plant is. Did I mention that it’s also deer-resistant? The infamous latex sap held in the stems of euphorbias is decidedly non-tasty to deer, so if they take a nibble, it’ll probably only happen once. Remember to protect your eyes and hands when trimming it because that milky sap is very irritating to us as well.


Here’s the standard gopher plant, shadowy between the stems, its blooms spotlit in bright afternoon light.


Chartreuse bracts attract attention, with yellow flowers beginning to open up in the center.


While never aggressive about it, gopher plant does seed out after blooming. I always find a few baby gophers popping up in spring, like this one growing out of a holey piece of limestone. Go for it, gopher plant!

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

9 Responses

  1. Laura says:

    I love this plant but somehow it is not well represented here and it is hard to find compared to other euphorbias.

    I love euphorbias, they are the first to bloom and their inflorescence lasts a long time.

    Happy almost Spring!

    How interesting that E. rigida isn’t readily available for you, Laura. It’s the only readily available euphorbia here in Austin, aside from the non-hardy pencil plant. I keep trying others, like ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Ascot Rainbow’, but they don’t hold up in our heat and humidity. Right now I’m trying again with ‘Blue Haze’. —Pam

  2. oh phew! Those kind of gophers! How wonderful – I’d love to find some for my garden. Hey…one of my color guard yuccas started to deteriorate…I gently tugged one of the pieces and half the plant came right out like it was not attached. Looked under it and there was a hole clear up into the root like something was eating it fomr the inside…like rot although I know they are not overwatered…almost like what the vine borer does to a zucc. plant. Any ideas????? Suggestions??? Thank you in advance Pam!

    Heather, it could be an attack by the dreaded agave snout weevil. If you dig around in the soil around the roots, do you see any white grubs or black beetles? If so, bag up the plant and surrounding soil and throw it away, and consider treating your other yuccas with a systemic insecticide. I hope that’s not it, but it sounds like it could be. Click the link above for more info. —Pam

  3. EEK! I will get right on looking when I get home….thank you Pam!

  4. peter schaar says:

    My gopher looks just right in a huge cobalt blue egg pot at the foot of the steps by the sidewalk. It’s growing in mostly drainage rock and a little compost in full sun and seems happy as a clam(? Why are clams supposed to be so happy, anyway?)

    I have no idea about the clams, but your gopher sure sounds happy. I bet it does look great in that blue pot. —Pam

  5. [...] sporadically. Euphorbia rigida is always presentable, upright, and most of the year plain stunning. Pam in Austin, Texas, grows it and loves it, as does Loree in Portland, Oregon. Euphorbia rigida has scope (zones 7-11.) [...]

  6. What a fun, sculptural plant. I haven’t seen it around here (central NC) but I’ll have to look a bit harder. I love euphorbias because they’re so simple. Your combo with yucca and Nassella looks fantastic.

    Plant Delights in Raleigh carries it, MHM. It looks like it’ll grow in your area providing it has good drainage. —Pam

  7. ricki says:

    We have lots of these. I thought maybe they got their name by repelling gophers of the animal sort, but alas, we have lots of those too. The deer here take a taste every so often, then spit out the chewed up bits in disgust.

    No gophers in Austin that I know of, but we have plenty of deer. They have the same reaction to gopher plant as your deer. —Pam

  8. Lisa Sejnowski says:

    I, too, fell in love with gopher plants some years ago when I found it at Barton Springs Nursery – they have a really big one there (planted). And I just went websurfing to determine if they can be trimmed, as mine is getting quite leggy, & saw your post from a few years ago saying, yes you can. So guess what I’m doing tomorrow? :-)

    BTW, I planted one in a pot many years ago – back when we actually had a really rainy spring in Austin – & it rotted from too much water. Since then, I’ve hesitated to try it again, but I have a good pot for it. Do you think it would be ok if I put about 6 inches of gravel in the bottom of a 14″ diameter pot? Would be in a xeriscape bed, so only natural water.

    Don’t you want to wait until it’s done blooming, Lisa? I cut mine back after the flowers go to seed, and then enjoy the tidy, shorter “arms” all summer. Re: planting it in a pot, that should be perfectly fine. Just use a cactus mix rather than a rich potting soil, and mix in some coarse decomposed granite. Then top with a gravel or glass mulch to keep it tidy. —Pam

  9. Lisa Sejnowski says:

    My existing gopher plant is actually looking pretty scraggly, much like a Medusa’s hair, with most arms broken or dying at the ends, so no blooms – probably because I haven’t ever cut it back. Do have a couple with soon-to-be-blooms, so can wait on them, & there’s new growth in the center, so it’s rejuvinating. And thanks for the potting tip.