Croton is a name given to plants in the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family. There are hundreds of varieties of croton, from brilliant South Pacific tropical perennials to plain weeds in the Midwestern U.S. Crotons make colorful evergreen shrubs in USDA zones 10 and 11, gracing yards in Florida and parts of California. Further north, they live inside as rugged houseplants.
The Journal of the Brazilian Chemical Society refers to approximately 1300 species of crotons, most of which are found in tropical areas. In South America, crotons are native to the Amazon watershed and found throughout Brazil, Western Venezuela, Northern Colombia, Mexico and Central America. Crotons grow as trees throughout the tropical heartland of Africa. Crotons also grow throughout Southeast Asia, including Eastern areas of India, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Of the hundreds of types of croton, the multi-colored Malaysian native Croton codiaeum is familiar as a tropical houseplant and Florida landscape plant. It requires bright light, moist soil and a uniformly warm environment. It is a perfect landscaping choice for Florida's humid climate but needs extra humidity indoors where central heating wrings the moisture out of the air. Soil should be allowed to go almost dry between waterings. Leaves may drop if the plant experiences cold drafts or after re-potting or a change in location.
North American Natives
A few annual crotons are native to North America. Only three of eleven native crotons listed by the University of Texas native plant database succeed in areas outside of the American Southwest. C. capitus, or hogwart, is the most widespread, followed by C. glandulosus (vente conmigo). Both prosper in parts of the Midwest. C. lindheimerianis (threeseed croton) is found in Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania but is mainly found in Southern states. All of the native crotons are plain green and better suited to a native plant or prairie garden.
The widespread use of crotons in folk medicine, as reported in the Journal of the Brazilian Chemical Society, suggests uses for treatments of cancer, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, inflammatory diseases, leukemia and rheumatism. The plant's red sap contains latex and is used as an astringent; it is marketed as a treatment for colic and gastric ulcers. In Benin, the leaves of a species of C. zambesicus are used to treat malaria. Researchers have just begun to investigate the medical applications of the plant.
Parts of crotons are toxic, and "oil of croton," which is produced from C. tiglium, has produced cancerous tumors in laboratory animals. Keep children and animals from handling or eating crotons.