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Mr. Smarty Plants - Does non-native Crown of Thorns cause cancer?

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Saturday - August 24, 2013

From: Richmond, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Poisonous Plants
Title: Does non-native Crown of Thorns cause cancer?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Does the plant, Corona De Cristo (Crown of thorns) cause cancer?

ANSWER:

First of all, the focus and expertise of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is with plants native to North America.  Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorns) is native to Madagascar and, thus, is really out of our purview.  However, I can point you to several internet sources where you can find out more about it.

Poisonous Plants of North Carolina lists it as being mildly toxic and, according to the University of Florida Miami-Dade Cooperative Extension Service:

"As with other euphorbs, E. milii produces copious quantities of poisonous milky sap that can cause skin irritation, and contains tumor promoting chemicals (diterpene esters).  It would be best to wear gloves when handling the plants, and to wash off any sap that gets on your skin."

Here is more information from Union County College in New Jersey.

There are rumors about the plant having cancer causing abilities and several of the sites listed above note that the sap has chemicals that are known tumor promoters.  However, a study testing the sap on mice skin did not produce tumors.  [Delgado, I. F. et al.  2003. Absence of tumor promoting activity of Euphorbia milii latex on the mouse back skin.  Toxicol. Lett. 2003 Nov 30;145(2):175-80.]

If I were you, I would use caution in handling the plant and, as the advice from Miami-Dade Cooperative Extension Service recommends—wear gloves and wash off any sap that gets on your skin.

 

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