Codiaeum variegatum (garden croton or variegated croton; syn. Croton variegatum L.) is a species of plant in the genus Codiaeum, which is a member of the family Euphorbiaceae. It is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and the western Pacific Ocean islands, growing in open forests and scrub.
The garden crotons should not be confused with Croton, a cosmopolitan genus also in the Euphorbiaceae, containing more than 700 species of herbs, shrubs and trees.
It is a tropical, evergreen, monoecious shrub growing to 3 m (9.8 ft) tall and has large, thick, leathery, shiny evergreen leaves, alternately arranged, 5–30 cm (2.0–11.8 in) long and 0.5–8 cm (0.20–3.15 in) broad. The inflorescences are long racemes 8–30 cm (3.1–11.8 in) long, with male and female flowers on separate inflorescences; the male flowers are white with five small petals and 20–30 stamens, the female flowers yellowish, with no petals. The fruit is a capsule 9 mm (0.35 in) diameter, containing three 6 mm (0.24 in) seeds. The stems contain milky sap that bleeds from cut stems.
The changeable leaves are divided into petiole and leaf blade. The petiole has a length of 0.2 to 2.5 cm. The thin leathery, bald leaf blade is shaped and coloured differently depending on the variety. With a length of 5 to 30 cm and a width of 0.3 to 0.5 to 8 cm, the leaf blade can be easy to split, it can, for example, ruler-lanceolate, oblong, elliptic, lanceolate, ovate inverted ovate spatulate, violin-shaped or beeched with wedge-shaped to obtuse spur base and pointed to rounded. The leaf colors range from green to yellow to purple and quite different patterns are possible. They form lateral, slender, simple, racemose inflorescences that have a length of 8 to 30 cm and contain many flowers. The discus has five glands. They contain many (20 to 30) stamens. The flowering period is usually in early autumn. The seeds have a diameter of about 6 mm.
In tropical climates, crotons make attractive hedges and potted patio specimens, valued for their striking foliage. They only survive outdoors where temperatures do not normally drop below 10° to 13 °C in winter; colder temperatures can cause leaf loss. In colder climates, the plants are grown in greenhouses or as house plants. The cultivated garden crotons are usually smaller than the wild plant, rarely over 1.8 m tall, and come in a wide diversity of leaf shapes and colours. They are sometimes grouped under the name Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum (Lodd.) Müll. Arg., though this is not botanically distinct from the species and usually treated as a synonym of it.
There are several hundred cultivars, selected and bred for their foliage. Depending on the cultivar, the leaves may be ovate to linear, entire to deeply lobed or crinkled, and variegated with green, white, purple, orange, yellow, red or pink. The colour patterns may follow the veins, the margins or be in blotches on the leaf. Popular cultivars include 'Spirale' which has spirally-twisted red and green leaves; 'Andreanum' which has broadly oval yellow leaves with gold veins and margins; 'Majesticum' which has pendulous branches, with linear leaves up to 25 cm long with midrib veins yellow maturing to red; and 'Aureo-maculatum' which has leaves spotted with yellow.
As with many of the Euphorbiaceae, the sap can cause skin eczema in some people. The bark, roots, latex, and leaves are poisonous. The toxin is the chemical compound 5-deoxyingenol. The plant contains an oil which is violently purgative and is suspected of being a carcinogen. Consumption of the seeds can be fatal to children.
Completely yellow leaves on a specimen in Kolkata, India.
- G. Nicholson Ill. Dict. Gard. 1: 352 1885
- Flora of China: Codiaeum variegatum
- Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening 1: 665. Macmillan.
- Bingtao Li & Michael G. Gilbert: Codiaeum in the Flora of China , Volume 11, 2008, p. 268
- Occupational contact dermatitis due to croton (Codiaeum variegatum (L.) A. Juss var. pictum (Lodd.) Muell. Arg.). Sensitization by plants of the Euphorbiaceae. Contact Dermatitis 1977 Dec. 3(6): 289-92. abstract.
- National Tropical Botanical Garden Codiaeum variegatum (Euphorbiaceae) Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
- "Cultivars of Codiaeum variegatum (L.) Blume (Euphorbiaceae) show variability in phytochemical and cytological characteristics". African Journal of Biotechnology. 6 (20): 2400–2405.
- "Croton (Codiaeum Variegatum)". Nova Scotia Museum.