The Codiaeum or Croton is an attractive houseplant whose gaudy colors cause the plant to be either loved or hated. It does have minimum care requirements.
Part of the Euphorbiaceae family and originating primarily from south-east Asia, Codiaeums are grown for their striking foliage. While colors are varied and can be spectacular, a wide variety of leaf shapes occur across the hundreds of varieties and hybrids that are grown indoors. Yellow, orange, red, purple and mixed foliage are all common in the Codiaeum houseplant.
Codiaeum leaves are smooth and usually leathery. Leaves of young Codiaeum plants exhibit more green coloration then the colors develop as the plant ages. There are a wide range of variegated leaf patterns which include spots, stripes, blotches and the leaf veins. Colors are normally strongest in the leaf veins. The strong, thick leaves exhibit many different leaf shapes across the range. Leaves are normally a large oval shape but there are many narrow-leaved varieties and some with a twisted shape, enhanced by vivid coloration.
Bright light is needed to maintain leaf color in this houseplant species as their variegated leaves absorb light across a wider light spectrum than common green leaves. Direct sunlight can be allowed on most but not all Codiaeum varieties, and where it is allowed as a general rule it should only be for a few hours at a time. Hence positioning the plant near an appropriate window can often be a suitable location.
Good specimens of Codiaeum can make a striking focal point in the right setting. The plant’s size and height tend to keep the bright colors in perspective for the observing eye. They often work best when used with minimalist decor though they can also look quite attractive in kitchens, where cold draughts need to be avoided. Codiaeums are also excellent group display plants, for example forming a colorful counterpoint with smaller plants such as ficus or a dark maranta. They are also often grouped with palms, achieving a contrast that benefits the display of both plants
By far the most usual houseplant species is Codiaeum Cariegatum. Nowadays, the common commercial form is Codiaeum Cariegatum Pictum or a hybrid. Codiaeum Variegatum Pictum is known as “Joseph’s Coat” because of its color variation, from orange to purple with reds and greens between, the lighter colors usually appearing on the new growth near the top of the mature plant
Of the many hundreds of varieties or hybrids available, some of the more well-known varieties include:
Other popular hybrid types include:
Codiaeums grow to over six feet tall in the wild. As houseplants, most varieties grow to three or four feet in height with a spread of up to around two feet. Many Codiaeums grow quite quickly. Some varieties can become leggy and generally straggly if their growing tip is not pinched out early, usually in spring. Small flowers occasionally occur on Codiaeums but are short-lived. Common practice is to pinch the flowers off so as to maximize foliage growth
Sap emerges from leaf tips that are pinched and some stems if they are cut. Direct contact of the sap with skin should be avoided as it is irritating. Cutting back a Codiaeum that has grown too large is acceptable, after which the cut ends should be sprayed with water to reduce sap. New growth will normally form on cut stems.
The secret of successful maintenance of a Codiaeum houseplant is to maintain fairly constant conditions, especially temperature. Light and humidity are also both important. Codiaeums will live for years as houseplants if correct temperature and humidity are maintained. Many Codiaeums require a minimum 60F even in winter, though some are more tolerant down to around 55F. A cold winter does not bode well for these plants.
As a general rule, though specific varieties may have slightly different requirements, Codiaeums should be fed every two months during spring and summer. They should be rested during winter, with a corresponding gradual slow down of feed in autumn. Many varieties are best with their compost kept slightly moistened throughout the resting period.
In order to keep the plant moist, misting with water on a daily basis in summer and/or standing the plant pot in a pebble tray are normally advised. Outside the resting period Codiaeums should be watered frequently. It is normally best to avoid watering leaves directly, as over time this creates highly visible marks and some discoloration in the leaves.
Wiping the leaves gently to prevent build-up of dust is good practice. Older plants tend to drop their lower leaves but will keep them longer with increased humidity. Leaves can go brown then drop if the temperature drops too low or they are becoming too dry. Codiaeums are prone to common pests, especially red spider mite, and scale insects. Mealy bugs also occur in some varieties.
Normal repotting practice with most Codiaeums is to repot into the next pot size each spring until reaching the 8-inch size, then after that to top-dress the Codiaeum each spring. Codiaeums are usually propagated by taking cuttings of side shoots in mid-spring. They can then be planted in a sand-soil mixture and maintained in a greenhouse or a heated propagator at 77F. Several cuttings can be placed in the same pot until roots form. Normally new Codiaeum plants can be potted up within 5-6 months. Some Codiaeum varieties can also be grown using hydroponic methods.