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Houseplant Helper : Crotons - Colorful Plants for Indoors

by Gary Antosh

This week our topic is Crotons. In actuality, the crotons we are discussing is the genus Codiaeum which is different from the genus Croton in the same family. It may be confusing, but they all seem to get lumped into the same group. They are native to the Old World Tropics and

the most commonly grown variety Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum is native to the Pacific Islands and Malay Peninsula.

Crotons are a small shrub and can reach a height of 5-6 feet. The leaves are leathery and start out green, gradually changing color as it matures.

Crotons have been popular for many years in tropical gardens and have only in the last 10-15 years become popular potted indoor plants. Most of the varieties grown during the 1970's experienced considerable leaf drop when moving the plant indoors.


Crotons were used many years ago, not as a potted plant, but in colorful arrangements. Back before South Beach, Disney World, and the Cuban missile crisis, Miami Beach was a vacation spot in the 40s and 50s. Croton leaves were used to add color and decorate the hotels' interiors. During those days, crotons were used and still are today in the outdoor landscape of South Florida. They come in many shapes and a rainbow of colors; reds, pinks, yellows, rust, orange, even some purples to name a few. Crotons are unique in that it is possible to root only the leaves. These rooted leaves were then planted into low coffee table arrangements that added color and lasted for 2-3 months.

Today, many interiorscapers use mums, bromeliads, and orchids for color rotation. Over the last 10-15 years, new varieties have been developed in Europe and introduced to the US marketplace. These new introductions are able to maintain their color and leaves under lower light levels. Two of these popular varieties produced are Croton "Norma" and Croton "Petra".


Crotons are grown primarily for their brightly-colored foliage. For this reason, they need fairly high light to maintain the vibrant colors. Many new varieties will handle light levels as low as 100-200 foot candles. If the leaves are mostly green after they mature, or the color intensity is poor, there are a few tips to remember:

  • The plants best color will develop in bright light under cooler temperatures.

  • Plants grown during the summer have difficulty in producing good color. In summer, color improvement can be obtained with higher light, cooler temperatures and sometimes reduced fertilizer levels.

  • Development of good color during the winter is rarely a problem when proper light is provided and fertilizer rate is not excessive.

  • The potting media for crotons should have good aeration, but not excessive drainage since crotons will wilt rapidly if they are allowed to dry out.


When a croton leaf is punctured, it will leak a white sap. This sap can stain clothes and irritate some people’s skin. This is not an uncommon characteristic with the croton family Euphorbiacae. One positive note, the wide range of colors far outweigh the small inconveniences caused by the sap.

With springtime right around the corner, keep on the look out for crotons in your local garden center. Remember to keep in mind the following when caring for your croton:

  • Keep the light levels up.

  • Cooler temperatures help produce better color.

  • Don’t over fertilize.


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Related Plants
Croton (Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum )

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