An Introduction to Crotons


Codaieum variegatum plants, known more commonly as crotons, are ornamental, tropical shrubs native to Indonesia and Malaysia. 

Europeans discovered the plant c. 1680 when its vividly colored leaves caught the eye of amateur naturalists/explorers from the English & Dutch East India Companies. In the 1800’s crotons were being shipped back to England and Holland to be propagated in commercial hot hous


It wasn’t long before growers were producing shrubs whose leaves sported evermore vivid color patterns and unusual shapes to satisfy the burgeoning coterie of garden collectors throughout Europe, for whom the prized plants epitomized exotic, faraway sultry lands of the Tropics.

Sometime after 1850 crotons were introduced into the United States from Europe. In cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia with emerging public gardens built to emulate London’s Kew Gardens, crotons were favored for growing in glass houses as Victorian bedding plants and were desirable both as hot house and indoor potted plants. 


Increasingly from the 1920’s to the 1960’s as Florida became more populated, the plants were welcomed as part of the home and commercial landscape design and unwittingly became one of South Florida’s most popular shrubs especially in areas where sultry conditions prevail, and for good reason: Few plants can surpass their colorful foliage and variety of leaf shapes and sizes. 


Leaves vary from oval to narrow, small to large, oak leaf to semi-oak leaf, tri-lobed, corkscrew and even zany. Leaf colors include a seemingly endless palette of reds, yellows, bronze, corals, oranges, fuchsia, pinks, reddish-purples, maroon, jet black, white, cream and as many shades of green. Colors are intermingled, mottled, stippled, dappled, blotched, and streaked. Veins and edges (margins) may be highly colored and contrasted to what's left of the leaf. Leaf textures may appear opaque, translucent, shiny, waxy, leathery and abraded. Many times a shrub’s older growth will color over time to look so completely different from the new as to be almost totally unrecognizable as belonging on, or to the same plant. Leaf shapes on the same plant however, seldom differ and, as in accepted botanical identification practices, are often the most reliable way to differentiate one named codaieum or croton variety from another.   


As Florida landscaping and garden designs came into vogue and faded with the times, so too, the popularity and desirability of Crotons, Coliaeum variegatum ~ Florida's most colorful foliage plants has fluctuated.  Hugely popular in 1920s Miami and Tampa where the shrubs were extensively used as foundation plantings throughout the region, garden trends in the 1970s and ‘80s began to view the shrubs as too flamboyant or gaudy and even in poor taste engendering a croton prejudice which exists to the present.  Thankfully, large, beautiful original plantings can still be seen flourishing in older, more established residential and commercial neighborhoods in those cities and the surrounding areas.  

In those decades however, several new and interesting cultivars were hybridized to expand the palette, and Crotons continue to be appreciated and used by present day gardeners.   

Crotons are enjoying a well-deserved resurgence and dovetail nicely with the growing trend in landscaping to replant and convert over to native selections. While native selections are efficient users of available water and tolerant of dry conditions, sadly the plants many times lack showy flowers and ornamental brilliance of color found in many of the more water-dependent shrubs. While at first, newly-planted crotons must be regularly and even heavily watered to survive, in the long run Crotons can fill that gap. It’s worth noting that, “once established, [Crotons] are drought tolerant,” as per Croton Production and Use, University of Florida’s IFAS Extension publication ENH878.  

The shrub thrives from the Florida Keys to south and central Florida and along both coasts as far north as Tampa on the west coast and Melbourne on the east coast. Further north along both Florida coasts crotons will tolerate some cooler weather, but only in small, localized micro-climates where it’s milder. North of Orlando however, crotons are rarely grown except as indoor plants or outdoors as containerized plantings in protected conditions or for use as an annual summer bedding or display plant. 


Peters Croton Nursery strives to locate viable, hardy, historic, unusual, and rare cultivars for propagation. As with every croton grower, one of our greatest challenges is accurate cultivar identification. Mother Nature only adds to the confusion because the species is genetically, or reproductively unstable. This phenomenon leads to the common incidence of new offspring or “sports” showing up, or appearing unexpectedly together with new growth which may resemble but are not exact likenesses of the parent plant.   


Alongside our passion for crotons, in the big picture our larger mission is:

  • To further the revival of, safeguard the preservation of, and to continue the propagation of sought-after, scarce, and ‘heirloom’ Codiaeum cultivars.
  • To produce healthy, viable and hardy Croton specimens for the joy they bring into private and public gardens everywhere.
  • To inspire and motivate young people to try gardening, and to encourage fledgling gardeners of all ages.