It is an erect shrub growing up to 5 m tall, with succulent branches 3–5 cm diameter, ridged, with a triangular or rhombic cross-section; the ridges are spiny, with short spines up to 5 mm long. The leaves are minute, and soon deciduous. All parts of the plant contain a poisonous milky latex.
It is used medicinally in India. It is widely grown as an ornamental plant, both in the tropics, and as a houseplant in temperate regions; a number of cultivars have been selected for ornamental use, notably 'Cristata' with frilled branching. Other colloquial names include Candelabra spurge, Candelabrum tree, Candelabra cactus, Candelabra plant, Dragon bones, False cactus, Hatrack cactus, Milkstripe euphorbia, Mottled candlestick.