Chrysanthemums aren't the only plant that can add gorgeous color to your fall decor.

Consider a tropical plant called crotons.

Crotons have bright, multicolored foliage of orange, red, yellow and green, making them a perfect pick for decorating.

Like poinsettias, crotons are members of the Euphorbiaceae family. The species is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and the western Pacific Ocean islands, where it grows wildly in the forest.

Only in tropical or coastal areas of the United States will crotons survive outside. You'll see lots of them in Florida, where they do well in full sun and partial shade.

For the rest of us, crotons are grown as houseplants or in outdoor containers that can be protected from frosts and freezes, which will damage crotons, even though they quickly recover.

Petra crotons are the most commonly grown indoors, in spaces with maximum light and warmth so they will keep their bright coloring. Color fades in low-light conditions and lower leaves may drop.

One caution: Crotons’ sap can be irritating and poisonous if consumed, so keep children and pets away. The sap also can stain.

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Most plants grow to 2 to 6 feet in both height and width. They produce an inconspicuous white flower.

But flowers are not what this plant is about. It is prized for its glossy, coarse and colorful foliage.

Crotons like high humidity, so only water when the top inch of the potting mix starts to dry. Excess water can encourage fungal disease on the roots, and plants will drop older leaves if they stay too wet.

No serious insect or disease problems are associated with crotons, but do watch for scale, spider mites and mealybugs. Treat heavily infested plants with horticultural or neem oil as needed, carefully following the label.

Plants can be fertilized in both spring and summer. You can apply a liquid fertilizer monthly to encourage faster growth. Again, follow the directions on the label.

There are more than a hundred varieties of crotons with varying colors and leaf shapes from large, coarse leaves to slender, twisted leaves. Some of the more popular varieties of this colorful plant are:

  • Petra — green leaves with red, orange and yellow variegation
  • Gold Star — green leaves speckled with bright gold stars
  • Eleanor Roosevelt — skinny leaves with a wide range of colors mottled with bright yellow spots
  • Mother and Daughter — exotic-looking leaves that are long and narrow with a pointed-end leaflet
  • Foliage — deep green speckles with small yellow or ivory splashes
  • Oakleaf — oak leaf-shaped dark green or bronze leaves with veins in yellow, orange and red
  • Zanzibar — very narrow leaves in green, purple, red, yellow and orange.

Plants can be found in most garden centers or florist shops at this time of year.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.