These highly ornamental leaved plants can best be described by calling them hothouse evergreen shrubs or trees, which they really are. As large decorative plants for the conservatory they have few equals. In the latitude of Philadelphia and southward they make beautiful beds out of doors, or add greatly to the appearance of the subtropical or mixed bed, but even in that latitude they should be in protected situations.
For decorations they are valuable, but not in cold weather, for a chill (even a low temperature) soon takes off their beauty, and a croton must be in perfect condition or it is useless. They also dislike to have their roots chilled with cold water, and repeated doses of cold water will soon show by a drooping of the foliage.
They are rapidly propagated from the tips of the young growths in warm sand in March and April. The sand must be kept moist and sun and draughts kept from the cuttings. Growers of large quantities plant out on a bench in five or six inches of good rich soil, the young plants in a light house, where during the summer months they make a fine, quick growth and in the fall they are lifted and potted, and when established are ready for sale.
Where expense is of little moment they make splendid plants for the mixed baskets of flowers and plants now sold in our largest cities. To grow cro-tons at their best they should not go below 70 degrees at night at any time of the year, but for a short time will endure 20 degrees lower than that. Unlike a palm or dracaena, however, anything near the freezing point for an hour or two will greatly damage them.
They are subject to the ravages of the mealy bug, red spider and thrips, but there is no excuse for them, as the plants delight in syringing; the proper use of the hose should banish their pests, or rather they should never appear.
For soil they like a strong, turfy loam with a fifth or sixth of rotten cow manure, and should be firmly potted, and when the water passes properly through the soil, which it always should, they want lots of it. Bone meal has been added to the compost (about one pound to a bushel of soil) with the very best results.
The following will be found very handsome and satisfactory varieties, and without describing each variety, they can be depended on to furnish both variety and form, habit and color of the leaf:
Aurea picta, acubaefolia, Baron Bothschild, Day Spring, contorta, Challenger, Disraeli, elegantissimus, Johannis, Mortii, Langii, Ruberrinum, Sunbeam, Reidii, gloriosum, Lady Zetland, voluta.
Picta is remembered as one of the oldest and is probably the parent of most of the present varieties.
These plants are so universally known as crotons (and probably will be for a long time to come) that it is not worth while naming them anything else here. Yet modern horticultural dictionaries say that they are not crotons but co-diaeums.