Codiaeum is a genus of brightly colored tropical plants in the Euphorbiaceae family, prized for its varied shapes and colors. The plant is native to Southeast Asia, Pacific islands, and the Caribbean, but is now cultivated in gardens in tropical zones and used as houseplants throughout the world. Thick, leathery leaves in oval or dagger shapes are variegated with splotches or veins of bright yellow, red, green, purple, and orange. A common name for Codiaeum is croton, but the scientific name Croton is also used for another genus of unrelated plants.
Given ideal conditions of plentiful sun, plenty of water, and consistent heat, Codiaeum grows into shrubs 4-10 feet (1-3 meters) tall. In hot, frost-free areas, croton is grown as a specimen plant in pots or at the back of a garden, or sometimes a row of the plants are grown as a hedge. The plants grow on a main tough, woody stem, though root balls may develop many stems. Codiaeum can be propagated through air layering or stem cuttings. The croton is a poisonous plant that will irritate the mouth and digestive tract if eaten, so it should be grown with care around animals and small children.
While Codiaeum are generally low-maintenance types of plants, they grow best in a sunny, somewhat humid, and warm environment. If grown as houseplants, they will thrive if the leaves are misted with water from a spray bottle occasionally. They should be watered when the topsoil is dry to the touch; the plant will begin to drop leaves if the soil is too dry. A full-strength general-purpose fertilizer can be used once a month. The leaves often have a glossy sheen; keep them shiny by wiping the leaves with a wet cloth twice a month.
Intensely colored leaves are the plant’s main appeal, and the colors become more intense if the plant receives plenty of direct sunlight. The most common Codiaeum variety has thick oval leaves that start out dark green and develop veins of yellow or red, with orange, yellow, and red patches between the veins. One variety, called Gold Star, has long narrow leaves with bright yellow spots. Johannah Coppinger is another narrow-leaved cultivar that produces green leaves with yellow spots and red leaves with bright pink spots, all on the same plant. Spirale is a variety with red and gold leaves that grow in a spiral pattern.