Crotons, in the same family as poinsettias, the euphorbiaceae family,
are in the genus codiaeum, and the species name is variegatum. These
colorful plants have been popular in Florida landscapes for a long
time, and if used correctly, they can make wonderful additions to the
When grown in full sun most crotons show their brightest colors. Careful placement in the landscape ensures that these plants compliment the design, not distract from it.
There are many variations of this plant, with foliage colors that range from green to red, yellow, and pink. Besides their different leaf colors, varieties also offer differing leaf forms and shapes, as well as a range of plant sizes and shapes. The color patterns are quite diverse among the varieties also.
Considered slow growers, crotons tolerate the sandy Florida soils well, especially if the bed they are being planted in has a good organic soil amendment added to it. They will tolerate a little salt, but probably not a coastal or dune planting.
They originated in Malaysia, and their flowers are small, white and not very showy. And like most plants in the euphorbiaceae family, they have a sap that could be an irritant.
Crotons are drought-tolerant, and their fertilizer needs are low.
Plants with colorful leaves like the crotons require special treatment in the landscape. Their wide range of colors, and the intensity of those colors can cause visual conflict if they are not located properly. These colors and their intensity are also modified by the amount of sunlight, generally the brighter the sunlight, the brighter the colors. In fact, if the light level is low enough, the leaves may revert to just a green color. However, if the plant is not getting enough fertilizer and/or moisture in full sun, these factors will also make colors appear washed out or faded and dull.
Some crotons have unusual, even bizarre leaf forms. This variety has an additional small part of the leaf that extends out from the main leaf on small section of the leaf's main vein.
Insects can also cause this dull look. It is best to place these plants in the landscape where the colors will compliment the surrounding landscape. When planted against a darker green background, the colors will be more visible and appealing to the viewer. These plants also make good specimen plants, especially when they are one of the larger, more robust-growing varieties.
Some crotons also make good container plants, and a few may tolerate the harsher interior environment.
For outdoor containers, choose varieties that seem to stay smaller, or regular shaping and pruning will be required to keep the plant in its space.
For interior use, these plants will still need considerable light to maintain color in their leaves. Try to find plants that have been acclimated to the lower light levels of an interior. If it has been grown by a foliage grower, the variety is one that probably will maintain some color in the lower light levels found on the inside of a home.
Propagating crotons is usually quite easy. They will root quickly and easily from stem cuttings. Small tip cuttings, four to six inches long, can be cut and placed into a rooting medium — perlite, vermiculite, sand, peat moss, or any combination of these will work.
Some varieties offer more subtle areas of color. This variety has small patches of yellow to red on a basic green background, and like most crotons, these color will intensify and grow larger if grown in more direct sunlight.
A rooting hormone can also be used to help initiate new roots more quickly. These cuttings should be placed into an environment where the humidity is kept close to 100 percent to minimize transpiration of moisture out of the plant. In a few short weeks, probably from three to six, new roots will begin to grow, and the cuttings can be planted into containers. These should be given protection from dry conditions and winds etc. until the plants have acclimated to the regular humidity levels.
When grown well, crotons rarely have insect problems. However, when they become stressed, they can have problems with mites, scales, and mealybugs. These pests can be controlled by closely monitoring the plant and removing the insects with a soapy water or if sprays are needed, with a horticultural oil spray.
Crotons can also become susceptible to root rots if the soils they are planted in do not drain well. If this is a problem, it is best to fix the drainage problem or relocate the plant if it survives to an area where the soil is airy and drains well.
Crotons are wonderful landscape plants that can add lots of color and interest to a landscape, but there placement and use is important to a successful design. Codiaeum (pronounced code-e-A-um) is thought to come from the word Codebo which is the Malaysian term for ‘the original species’. It is a member of the Euphorbia family. A Dutch botanist by the name of G.E. Rumphius is the first botanist to report extensively finding crotons. He discovered 9 varieties of crotons on the Mollucan island of Amboina between 1653 and 1686; he also contributed the first general knowledge about the genus. It was Rumphius who recognised codiaeums as a separate category of plants.
On many of these Molluca Islands, ‘Viti’ (also known by the name (‘Mollucanum’) grows naturally as undergrowth in the forest. It is thought that this is the original form from which new varieties have evolved, through mutation and cross pollination and dispersal by natives to other islands in the south Pacific. As the crotons were scattered by the natives, they continued the process of evolution and differentiation through mutation and also by cross pollination of their flowers by ants. The dispersion by the natives of this genetically unstable plant has resulted in a continuing development of new varieties, from the different geographical locations. Now, this genus includes approximately 15 species of trees and shrubs from Southeast Asia, Indomalaysia and the Pacific Islands.
The nation of Indonesia holds crotons in affection and high esteem, and their botanical gardens regard them almost worshipfully. Their chief use was as decorative adornments in festivals and they are often used as cemetary landscaping plants, especially on the island of Java; many Indonesians believe that crotons make a cemetery look friendlier. Other historical observations reflect that in both the Pacific Island and the Malay Peninsula natives have long observed a custom of crowning persons whom they wish to honour with wreaths made from leaves of crotons.
In the last century, mother nature was given a hand in developing new varieties, with the breeding of crotons to bring out different characteristics. This began in America in the 1920’s with the focus on increasing the leaf size, intensifying the colours and reducing the distance between the leaves. In the 1950’s croton lovers in Thailand succeeded in coming up with an array of entirely new and different styles of crotons. These new types were distinctive in that they are miniature and only reach a height of around a metre with a more intense colour, especially the red coloured ones. In the 1970’s, hybrids were introduced from Europe which were more adaptable to the drier atmosphere of indoors and able to hold their colour in the lower light conditions. Crotons available in nurseries today are the result of hybridization.
Crotons are grown for their leaves, the flowers are considered to be insignificant.
The leaves come in a range of colours range from almost pure white to light and deep yellow, orange, pink, red and crimson in the most charming hues. The leaves of crotons can be broad, narrow or very narrow and the shape can be oak leaf, semi oak leaf, spiral leaf, recurved or an interrupted leaf where the leaf blade stops but the midrib continues for an inch or so and then the leaf blade begins again. The leaf size is dependent on the amount of sun received, as too much hot sun shrinks the leaves, resulting in a dwarfing of the foliage.
Croton colour is stimulated by the sun’s rays and the amount and intensity of sunlight largely determines the degree of colour on the leaves. Those grown in the full sun will have the colours developing more quickly and those same colours can fade sooner.
Growing crotons in semi shade gives a variegation of colours ranging from delicate pastels to deep tones without the fading that can be seen in crotons grown in full sun. Where the sun touches the leaves unevenly, as in dappled sun, the colours are produced in irregular shaped patches of colour in varying shades. This staggered colour development is striking when it appears in dappled patches or blotches. .
I grow my crotons in various amounts of sunlight and would have to agree, my growing in filtered, dappled sunlight or semi shade have the most intense colour and hold it, while those growing in the hot afternoon sun have the colour bleached out of their leaves by the hot sun.
Crotons are known for being difficult to grow; it took my quite some time with deaths along the way to work out what I was doing wrong. I could successfully grow them through summer, autumn and winter but would lose them in late winter or spring. Initially I thought they needed more water, so I watered them only to have them die within a few hours. After trial and error I realised that they are more susceptible to over watering at this time of year and now keep them on the drier side.
Crotons like regular moisture and humidity when hot, and are tolerant of dry conditions in winter. A well drained soil is essential and they prefer a fertile, humus rich acidic soil. Fertilising is essential to bring out the leaf colour, use a fertiliser with a higher amount of potassium or alternatively use potash twice a year to bring out the colours.