Some houseplants, like crotons, look good but take much care

These outrageously flashy cousins of the colorful poinsettia plant were dubbed codiaeums in ancient Greece because of their frequent presence in the wreaths of honor which adorned the golden locks of classical Greek heroes. Codiaeum refers to head in Greek.

Codiaeums, nowadays known as crotons by almost everyone, have always, whatever their name, stood out in a crowd.

The foliage is not unlike a vividly imaginative artist's gaudy dream. Varying amounts of oranges, yellows, black, browns, pinks, reds, greens, and white are all present, simultaneously, on what may be thin, wide, straight, or wildly curled croton leaves.

The leaves, however, start out a plain green and only achieve peacock status in adulthood. Once a croton approximates a rainbow, it's a grown-up.

Be advised, however, that crotons, no matter how beautiful, are not for everyone. They seem to be aware of their spectacular looks and are fussy, demanding, and difficult to please.

Nonetheless, since success with crotons means living amid exotically dazzling foliage throughout the year, consider meeting their demands for bright light (at least four hours of direct sunlight daily), high humidity (40 percent or more), good ventilation, warm temperatures (70 to 80 degrees F.), adn constant and consistent watering (with tepid water).

Even in winter, their soil must be kept moist at all times. Also, to help crotons keep their peacocklike plumage, you'll have to either mist them daily or invest in a humidifier. In addition, they insist on monthly meals, spring through fall, and bimonthly feeding throughout the winter.

To keep crotons fully attired, grow them in a constant atmosphere that is free slightest change will drive a croton to strip and bare its long lean stems.

While under ideal conditions (bright light, high humidity, warm temperatures, constant atmospherews, and ample food and water) a croton will flower in the spring. Don't, unless you are both very young and very patient, wait for flower buds to set.

Instead, encourage further branching of the florid croton foliage which is, in fact, much more striking than its dull, tiny inconspicuous flowers, so much like the paltry green flowes hiding in the center of the poinsettia bracts.

To accomplish, prune the growing stem tips each spring. To increase your collection of crotons, root the cuttings inside a plastic bag in equal parts of moist sand and vermiculite.

Inspect for pest traces once a month. If you spy any fine cobwebs on the undersides of the leaves, isolate the plant and spray the leaves with a miticide or, to avoid the chemical pollution of the atmosphere, keep bathing the plant once a week until all pest traces disappear.

Wait two or three weeks before allowing this particular croton to rejoin the other healthy specimens.

Of the 14 species of croton, only the Codiaeum variegatum pictumm and its 100 hybrids and varieties are grown as houseplants. Of these, the America and Gloriosa varieties are the fastest growers. The Appleleaf, Mount Florin, and Puccini are among the most compact. The Duke of Windsor, Harvest Moon, and Sanborn Jr. hold their color best; while Bravo, Caribbean, Sybil Griffin, and William Craig are the most spectacular.

Still, before you invest in any of these, take a hygrometer reading of the interior of your home. If the reading is below 30 percent, forget about growing crotons.

You'll be better off be-friending some other colorful but less-demanding plant, such as a variety of te multicolored, yet easy-to-please, coleus.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.