All about the Croton plant, a beautiful houseplant with variegated leaves

We often use it as a gift, but it is very delicate and not so easy to care for

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By Alex

It probably happens to everyone, sooner or later, to receive the plant known as Croton as a gift. It is a very common ornamental houseplant and always makes a good impression with its beautiful and particular leaves: they have a distinctive shape, color and shine. This plant is so beautiful, but unfortunately very delicate. If you have one at home, carefully read our guide where we give you many useful tips for taking care of it and keeping it at its best.

Characteristics of Croton plants

Croton (Codiaeum variegatum) is a shrubby plant belonging to the Euphorbiaceae family, native to India and Malaysia, which is also cultivated in our latitudes for purely ornamental purposes.

In its natural habitat, the Croton is a large branched shrub with a bushy habit, but the species chosen as houseplants, however, are small in size.

The larger leaves are quite thick and tough. Attached to the stem by a short and robust petiole, they have a spiral, ribbon-like or slightly rolled shape and in different shades of color that vary from more or less intense green variegated with white, pink, red, orange, yellow, purple and brown.

The flowers, much less decorative than the leaves, are white inflorescences that emerge inside a cup made up of 5 bracts.


Its scientific name, Codiaeum, derives from “Kodiho“, a name attributed to it in its place of origin, namely Malaysia. Most likely this term refers to a Greek equivalent meaning “head”, indicating the indigenous custom of weaving the leaves of this plant to make garlands to wear on the occasion of important religious ceremonies.

Croton varieties

There are many existing varieties of Croton – some of which are hybrids obtained from crosses of different varieties – and which differ from each other due to the different color of the leaves.

However, all of them are very ornamental. Let’s recap the main ones:

  • Croton or Codiaeum variegatum pictum has a columnar shape and stems about 1.5 m high covered with dark green ribbon-like leaves
  • Croton or Codiaeum variegatum Sunny Star. This is the variety most resistant to cold and drought. Its shrubs have golden yellow lanceolate leaves with dark green apical areas
  • Croton or Codiaeum variegatum Gold Sun: a shrubby variety with light green oval leaves and yellow spots
  • Croton or Codiaeum Petra. This variety is regarded as of high ornamental value: it has ovate leaves, colored green, streaked with red or yellow along the veins; the shades vary based on the intensity of the light

Growing Croton plant in the garden

Being a tropical plant, it requires a warm, humid environment. This is why it is very delicate and complex to grow, both in the apartment and in the garden. This second option is also possible only in areas where temperatures remain average for most of the year.

With suitable climatic conditions, it produces star-shaped white male flowers and petalless, yellowish female flowers.

Croton plant
Croton leaves can vary in color: you will see specimens with more or less intense green variegated with white, pink, red, orange, yellow, purple and brown.

Growing the Croton plant at home

It is easily found at any florist, but also online. However, let’s start from the premise that it is an extremely delicate plant and, as such, it is very delicate. If you buy it, in terms of durability, think of it more like a bouquet of flowers rather than a plant.

Care and maintenance

In any case, if you have a specimen at home, here is a series of tips for taking care of it and making it last as long as possible.

Climate and temperature

The ideal temperature for this plant is around 62° and 63° F (17° and 18°C), with a good humidity level (between 40% and 80%) It should absolutely not be subjected to temperature changes or exposed to direct sun.


Simply place it in a bright corner, taking care to rotate it 360 degrees from time to time. Avoid areas near stoves, radiators, fireplaces and entrance doors. If the leaves tend to remain green, it means that the plant is not receiving enough light, therefore it is necessary to find a new location for it.


Croton grows well in moist, slightly acidic and well-drained soils. The ideal is a mixture made up of approximately 2/3 universal soil, 1/3 third humus or compost or leaf mold, and a handful of sand.


Croton requires regular and abundant water supplies all year round, using water at room temperature. The soil must always be kept moist, avoiding the formation of stagnation. In summer, sprays with distilled water on the leaves should be sprayed weekly.


From spring to autumn, a liquid fertilizer should be administered every 20-30 days; in the autumn-winter period bimonthly fertilizations are sufficient.


It is advisable to carry out a light pruning of the tips in spring to encourage more luxuriant growth of the colored foliage.


The Croton plant requires annual repotting to be carried out in spring. The vases used must always have a slightly larger diameter than the previous one, a maximum of 25 cm. In subsequent years, simply remove 3 cm of soil and replace it with fresh, soft and fertile soil.

croton Codiaeum variegatum
The ornamental potential of this plant is surprising and yet to be explored.

Croton multiplication

Croton is propagated by cuttings, to be carried out in spring. Take apical portions of the stem with 5-6 leaves and place them to root in a container containing mixed or universal soil. Cover with a transparent plastic sheet to remove during the hottest hours of the day.

Diseases, parasites and other adversities

The main enemies of the Croton plant are:

  • the brown cochineal, which causes dark spots on the leaves
  • the red spider mite, easily identifiable by the presence of small cobwebs under the leaves and between the stems
  • root rot caused by water stagnation

What if the Croton plant loses its leaves

If your Croton plant appears deteriorated and loses its leaves, it means that it is suffering from the lack of light, it should therefore be immediately transferred to a brighter environment with a temperature not exceeding 20 degrees.

If the leaves are bent downwards and the stems appear weak and bare, it means that the air is too dry or the temperature is too low; also in this case, move the plant to a warmer and more humid environment.

Uses of the Croton plant

In addition to being appreciated for the beauty of its highly decorative foliage, and therefore a perfect interior furnishing element, the Croton plant is also recognized as a purifying plant as it is capable of absorbing and metabolizing toxic substances, such as benzene and formaldehyde.

Medicinal properties of the plant

In the areas of origin, the various parts of the Croton plant are used for their medicinal properties:

  • Excellent herbal teas are obtained from the leaves
  • The bark, reduced to powder, is used for intestinal infections but also as a flavoring powder
  • You can also obtain an oil with laxative properties from its seeds

Is the Croton plant poisonous?

The white latex that comes out of the branches when they are broken is highly toxic to both humans and pets.

Always wear gloves when handling leaves and when carrying out particular operations such as pruning.

Meaning in the language of flowers

In the language of flowers, Croton means “whim”, referring to its fickle and colorful foliage. The message you want to convey when giving it as a gift is quite explicit!

Summarizing: Despite being one of the most decorative plants, the Croton plant has a rather limited life. In terms of durability, you should think of it more like a bouquet of flowers rather than a plant.

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