i went through a period where i went around rescuing plants from shops. one of those rescues was a codiaeum plant, also known as croton, i named alfie (you can see him on ig @ #jmcodiaeumvariegatum). i loved the bright, fiery colours dancing on the deep shades of green. it also reminded me of visiting bali, as croton plants are everywhere there. the other croton i is a sunny star (#jmcodiaeumsunnystar) that i picked up when i first moved back to tkaronto.

side note: the variegation of codiaeum plants comes with maturation – so don’t worry if new leaves are mostly green. the bright colours will come with time 💚💛❤️

codiaeum sunny star (l) & codiaeum variegatum ‘petra’ (r)

history

codiaeum plants are native to malaccan islands, and from there spread to indonesia & other countries, including the philippines, papua new guinea, india, sri lanka, thailand, malaysia & other pacific islands (deng et al., 2014; magdalita et al., 2010). according to mollick & yamasaki (2012), there are over 300 croton cultivars around the world.

aside from being gorgeous plants, codiaeum has been used medicinally by indigenous peoples (more info on this in the next section). for thousands of years, people have used plant medicine and have shared this knowledge over generations. according to the world health organization (2011), between 70 to 95% of people living in the global south, especially those in asia, africa, latin america, & the middle east use traditional plant medicine as primary health care. while medicinal plants are now being researched, it’s important to recognize that healers in parts of the world have been doing this work for ages.

currently, major concerns are respecting indigenous peoples & their knowledge and the conservation of medicinal plants, which are at risk of overexploitation due to biopiracy. to address these issues we must protect indigenous rights, land & plants and turn to how locals used plant medicine as their methods preserve forests and plants, such as the matsés tribe.

did you know?

there are several medicinal uses of plants in the croton fam, including the essence of the root to treat gastric ulcers and the leaves to treat diarrhea as they have anti-bacterial and anti-amoebic properties (moundipa et al., 2005). & now for the coolest bit – the leaves and stem bark have been used by indigenous malaysians as an anti-infective and anti-cancer treatment (ali et al., 1996). a recent study isolated compounds from the petra variety (alfie!), which contain anti-tumor agents (hassan et al., 2013). similar findings were reported for other croton varieties (anim et al., 2016). locals in cameroon have used a decoction of codiaeum variegatum leaves to treat amoebic dysentery (an infection of the intestine) (mfotie, 2014). a study by cameroonian researchers led by njoya (2018) showed that extracts of the leaves are non-toxic & can be safely used medicinally.

in addition, jerouen paul lumabao (2016), a filipino high school student, found that extracts from codiaeum variegatum can kill mosquito larvae, which spread viruses such as zika & dengue. with the knowledge that insecticides were initially discovered in plants, he soaked dried leaves in alcohol & then dropped the extracts into water that had mosquito eggs & larvae – euphorbia hirta & lemongrass (yum!) were also found to affect the growth & development of mosquitos.

care tips

  • bright, indirect light from an east-facing window where it gets a bit of direct am sun which isn’t so harsh
  • in general, this plant does not like being placed in direct sun for long periods (i had it out on the balcony and the new leaves burnt to a crips), but thrive in dappled light
  • they love humidity – think of bali and tropical jungles
  • water moderately to keep the potting medium moist throughout summer, then water less frequently, letting the soil dry between watering
  • no cold drafts for these plants
  • propagate by stem cuttings or shoots that may pop up in the soil

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