Best Perennials: The Midas Touch

By Leonard Perry

Just as King Midas in Greek mythology turned whatever he touched to gold, so cushion spurge can turn your landscape golden in early spring. Although this long-lived, low-maintenance perennial (Euphorbia polychroma or E. epithymoides) has been around for years, many gardeners still aren't familiar with it. These plants add striking mounds of gold to your landscape in spring when little else is in bloom. Leaves turn green in summer, then red in fall.

Cushion spurge is a relative of the poinsettia, and as such, its showy "flowers" are not really flowers but actually modified leaves called bracts. Unlike most of its relatives, cushion spurge is quite hardy -- reliable to zone 4. But it grows best in cooler parts of zone 8, such as the Pacific Northwest. In the Southeast, it thrives only into zone 7 and grows best in shade. In other areas full sun is best. Plant seeds or transplants in well-drained soil. Once established, plants tolerate drought, and they'll readily self-sow in warm areas. Mounds may "open up" in late summer from excessive heat or as a sign that the plants need dividing.

Most commonly found is the species, which grows about 15 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches across. 'Major' may grow a few inches higher, with larger "flowers," while 'Midas' grows a few inches lower. For an interesting twist, try 'Purpurea', whose purple leaves contrast nicely with the yellow spring bracts. Plants are widely available.

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