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Classification, origin and description
Common name: Croton.
Etymology: Some authors claim that the name derives from the Malay kodiho.
provenance: comes from the Pacific islands (Ceylon), as well as from southern India and Malaysia.
Species description: includes 15 species of evergreen plants, of which the most widespread in Europe is the Codiaeum variegatum. It is a plant marketed for the beauty of the variously colored foliage, which for cultivation needs is suitable for greenhouse and apartment cultivation. There are many hybrids and varieties. In the Pacific islands, where it also grows spontaneously, it is used for its medicinal properties: the bark is indicated in intestinal infections and is also reduced to aromatic powder; the seeds have laxative properties and are squeezed to obtain an oil; herbal tea can be obtained from the leaves.
Codiaeum variegatum (website photo)
Species and varieties
Codiaeum aucubaefolium: has thick, leathery leaves, characterized by irregular yellow variegations.
Codiaeum borgoriense: has oval dark green leaves streaked with yellow.
Spiral codiaeum: native to Malaysia, this bushy species has narrow leaves characterized by veins of varying shades from red to yellow.
Codiaeum tiglium: it is a hardly cultivated species, with oval shiny green leaves, which reaches 2-3 m in height.
Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum: native to Malaysia, southern India and Sri Lanka, this shrub species reaches 60 cm in height in the apartment, while in a warm greenhouse it reaches reeds at 1.5-3 m. It presents alternating, simple, hairless leaves, with a leathery consistency and with a very variable shape (from oval to linear) depending on the variety. The color is also very variable, being able to present, on a generally bright green background, especially in the young leaves, irregular speckles ranging from white to pink, red, orange, yellow, brown and even blackish, which are accentuated in the older leaves. The flowers, gathered in spikes, are small and insignificant and are usually eliminated, to the advantage of the beauty of the foliage. There are many varieties among which we remember:
- "Benoit Compte": has variegated yellow leaves, which over time take on purple hues, on a green background;
- "Carrierei": with oblong-elliptic leaves, initially yellow-green in color, which later take on dark shades, blue-green with a red center;
- “Disraeli”: with long, lanceolate leaves with the green spatula end part, with irregular cream-white spots on the upper page and red shades on the lower one;
- "Eugène Chantrier": with leaves of an intense green color streaked with red-purple which, later, take on blackish shades with red-violet streaks;
- “Interruptum elegans”: with thin yellow-pink leaves;
- “Punctatum aureum”: one of the most resistant varieties with thin green leaves with cream white or light yellow punctuation;
- "Reidii": with ovate-oblong, curved and wavy green leaves with ribs that, initially of a cream color, take on light red hues with aging;
- "Undulatum": with wavy dark green leaves, which have irregular spots, initially yellow and then red.
Codiaeum warrenii: native to Malaysia, this species has a shrubby bearing, but the size it often reaches makes it look very much like a tree. It has leaves of different colors depending on the stage they are in: when young they are green with yellow veins; with time they tend to take on a blackish color with red veins.
Codiaeum variegatum (website photo)
Environmental requirements, substrate, fertilizations and special precautions
Temperature: the ideal temperature is between 18-21 ° C and in any case it must never be lower than 15-16 ° C. They can tolerate even short periods at 13 ° C, bearing in mind that a drop in temperature will cause growth to slow down. They do not tolerate sudden changes in temperature and large temperature ranges, as well as air currents.
Light: to maintain and enhance the coloring of the leaves, these plants require a very bright display, especially the varieties in shades of red. The crotons also tolerate direct sun rays, but one must be careful to provide shady positions in the warmer months and hours and when the leaves are wet (in order to avoid burns of the same). In the absence of adequate lighting, the leaves will tend to lose their coloring.
Watering and environmental humidity: watering must be abundant in summer (dry periods cause leaves to fall) and reduced in winter. The environmental humidity should be as high as possible, increased by spraying and spraying the foliage (using water at room temperature) and keeping the plants on basins with damp gravel.
Substrate: mixture composed of mature leaf earth and peat in equal parts, with the addition of sand.
Special fertilizations and tricks: during the summer period it is good to administer liquid fertilizer every 2-3 weeks, for young plants and once a week, for adult plants. Care must be taken not to fertilize the plant when the soil is dry: the fertilizer would be absorbed too quickly, being able to damage the plant beyond repair. They repot every year, well into spring. It is good to often clean the leaves with a damp cloth, to eliminate dust and limescale deposited following spraying. Crotons don't like to be moved frequently.
Multiplication and pruning
Multiplication: multiply by layering, on mature wood, or by cutting, of semi-mature wood. In the first case, the new seedling can be detached from the mother as soon as the roots are well formed, taking care to choose pots of adequate size, which will be changed later. The cuttings can be prepared from March to June, cutting the top of the most robust branches to the length of about 7-8 cm. After blocking the leakage of the latex with carbon powder, they are planted in pots of 5-6 cm in diameter, filled with peat and sand in equal parts, which will be kept in a multiplication box at a temperature of 24 ° C, taking care of air from time to time to avoid stagnation of humidity. Keep in mind that rooting is usually quite slow.
Pruning: a drastic pruning will be necessary only when the plant has developed in an ungainly way, with long stem and few sparse leaves. In this case, in March all the stems must be cut almost at ground level and, after blocking the latex spill with coal dust, the plants are brought to a warm and humid place, where they will start growing again quickly. The apical shoots obtained by pruning can be used to obtain cuttings.
Diseases, pests and adversities
- Brown mealybugs: they are located on the stems and on the underside of the leaves and, by subtracting sap from the plant, they stimulate it to produce sugary substances, which make it sticky and subject to attack by fungi and smokes. Attached plants are treated by physically eliminating the parasites, "washing" the plant with a damp cloth and treating it with anti-kills. As an alternative to the chemical, the affected parts can be rubbed with a cotton swab wet with water and alcohol.
- Cotton mealy bugs: can attack plants, especially in hot and dry climates. You have to remove them, treat the plant with an anticoccidic product and raise the level of environmental humidity (the spraying and the washing of the leaves allow to eliminate the cochineals in the larval state). As an alternative to the chemical, the affected parts can be rubbed with a cotton swab wet with water and alcohol.
- Red spider mite: attacks the lower page of the leaves causing the appearance of white or yellowish spots at the beginning, the discoloration of the same later. It spreads in hot and dry environments. It is therefore useful to increase atmospheric humidity by any means and spray the leaves frequently, as soon as the symptoms are recognized. Then treat the plant with acaricidal products.
- Leaves that wilt and fall: the plant is watered too much or too little or is subject to temperature changes.
- Leaves that lose their variegations and turn green: the exposure is not bright enough.
- Leaves showing burns: the plant was exposed too much to direct sunlight, perhaps when the leaves were wet.