Croton is an extensive flowering plant genus in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. The plants of this genus were described and introduced to Europeans by Georg Eberhard Rumphius. The common names for this genus are rushfoil and croton, but the latter also refers to Codiaeum variegatum. The generic name comes from the Greek κροτον (kroton), which means "tick" and refers to the shape of the seeds of certain species.
Croton is a diverse and complex taxonomic group of plants ranging from herbs and shrubs to trees. A well-known member of this genus is Croton tiglium, a shrub native to Southeast Asia. It was first mentioned in European literature by Cristóbal Acosta in 1578 as lignum pavanae. The oil, used in herbal medicine as a violent purgative, is extracted from its seeds. Nowadays, it is considered unsafe and it is no longer listed in the pharmacopeias of many countries.
Croton tiglium oil has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat severe constipation, heal lesions, and is used as a purgative. It is a source of the organic compound phorbol and its tumor-promoting esters such as 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate. In the Amazon the red latex from the species Croton lechleri, known as Sangre de Drago (Dragon's blood), is used as a "liquid bandage", as well as for other medicinal purposes, by native peoples.
It has recently been shown in Kenya that Croton nuts, such as those from C. megalocarpus, are a more economical source of biofuel than Jatropha. In Kenya, Jatropha requires as much as 20,000 litres of water to make a litre of biofuel, while Croton trees grow wild and yield about .35 litres of oil per kilo of nuts. Croton trees are planted as a windbreak in Kenya and its use as a source of biofuel may benefit rural economies there. As arable land is under population pressure, people have been cutting down the windbreaks to expand farmland. This new use may save the windbreaks which should help fight desertification.
The genus is pantropical, with some species extending into temperate areas. It is one of the largest and most complex genera of angiosperms in Madagascar, where up to 150 Croton species are endemic.
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- Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Croton Research Network
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