Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

The Croton but not A Croton

Croton 6Perfect for the warm greenhouse or conservatory or even as a houseplant in a warm light window The Croton is actually a Codiaeum. The genus Croton are different plants although both are in the Euphorbiaceae. There are only a few species of Codiaeum and in cultivation you almost always find a plant to be Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum, But then there are a huge number of selections, so many and so varied.

I have not yet described this highly decorative foliage plant and indeed it’s rather difficult. This is a tropical evergreen shrub, with a single, or branched stem, with big colourful leaves that may be ivy shaped, laurel, sword, fig, well almost any shape. The colour is green, but almost each and every green, then textured and leathery, ribbed and variegated. With central patches, or spots or stains, feathering, mottling, edging and skeleton veining. In white, cream, yellow, pink, red to almost black. The variation is stupendous.

If you’ve ever been on a tropical holiday you will have seen colourful Codiaeums as they are one of the ‘regulars’ used for every decorative situation. That’s because they are tough, reliable, and can be hacked back when too big. So grown here under cover they just need cool warmth and reasonable care. And good light as they lose some of their magnificent colours if not in full light. So for the best displays a LED grow light would be a sensible investment.

Codiaeums are natives of the Far East and Pacific, they spread world wide because of their amenity value in tropical settings and it’s only recently they’ve become popular for the home. Oddly although they’re from a poisonous family some cultures have eaten the leaves as a spinach, which I do not recommend.

Modern bright rooms with central heating suit Codiaeums if they’re given a daily misting in the summer months. Too hot and dry does not suit them, and shield them from sudden full sun if they’ve become used to less or they may scorch.

You can grow from seed and fairly quickly. As they don’t come true for the finest forms better purchase a choice variety, as many as you can find. Codiaeums are easy to propagate from cuttings in summer, ideally rooted with bottom heat. So when you find the one with a pattern you love you can soon have many. Root them in the same compost they’ll grow in, a free draining gritty mixture of loam, leaf mould and charcoal. Water with tepid rain water, but hardly any through winter.

Excellent and Petra are widely available and when you get enthusiastic there’s a legion of choice named varieties to discover. For example; William Craig is so colourful it has been likened to Joseph’s coat. Fascination has thread like narrow leaves of red and green with yellow variegation. Corkscrew is weird, a bushy plant with stiff strap shaped leaves twisted and spiralled, deep green, metallic red and yellow, with pink and blueish black shading.