The name of this species is rather ironic. The plants were introduced into cultivation in Europe in the beginning of the 18th century or maybe even before, and believed to have come from “Mauritania”, a name used at that time for a large portion of northwestern Africa. We now know they do nor occur in that area at all.
On the contrary, the species is widespread in southern Africa, where it is found on flats and stony slopes, sometimes also on coastal dunes. It is a much-branched shrub up to 2 m tall with short-lived leaves. The flowers appear from May to November.
As it is a variable species, a number of varieties have been described in the past, but these are now regarded as ecotypes and their names therefore as synonyms.
Of the about 30 species of the so-called medusoid group of Euphorbias, this is one of the biggest, sometimes reaching a metre or even more in diameter (including the branches).
It is very common over a large area stretching from the dry sandy plains east of Addo, northwards as far as Graaff Reinet and southwestwards towards the Baviaanskloof and the eastern border of the Little Karoo.
When the substrate is very hard, the main body is pushed above ground.
The name esculenta means “edible”, because the plants can be used as fodder in times of drought.
The flowers with their white woolly bracteoles give off a pleasantly sweet scent.
Plants of this species form clumps up to 15 cm tall and about 60 cm in diameter. The name refers to the armour of strong, usually straight, spines, which may be up to over 3 cm long.
The plants are found on flats and rocky outcrops from the western Great Karoo to Graaff-Reinet and Steytlerville, often in great numbers.
These pics were shot just north of the Garcia Pass. The first two on 13 Sept. 2011; the others on 6 Nov. 2009.