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Trees, Shrubs, Aloes, Grasses and Ground Covers.
Lavender Croton (E)
Lavender Fever-berry (E)
An exceptionally decorative and ornate, slender tree or fine, large shrub. It has grey, patterned bark, aromatic, dark, silvery green leaves with pale, pearly white undersides and cinnamon-red spots, and masses of tiny, creamy, star-like flowers carried on drooping spikes. The buds often remain closed and conspicuous on the tree until the first rains of the next season. The tree typically grows in a distinctive forked shape, with handsomely weeping, brittle branches and striking, glossy, egg-shaped leaves, which become particularly visible in windy weather. The crown is rather sparse or elegantly dome-shaped, occasionally pyramidal, and the mature foliage has a russet orange tint which contrasts beautifully with the young green leaves. A watery or milky latex is present in most parts of the tree. There are two distinguishable varieties: Croton gratissimus var. gratissimus with glabrous leaves, and Croton gratissimus var. subgratissimus, the leaves of which are covered with rough star-shaped hairs.
Euphorbiaceae (The Spurge family)
A large family of flowering plants, belonging to the order Malpighiales, with 218 genera and somewhat 6700 species of trees, woody shrubs, annual and perennial herbs, as well as a few climbers and succulents.
The plants are most common in temperate and tropical regions, but can be found worldwide, except for the very cold arctic and alpine regions.
Members have flowers that are typically unisexual, carried on the same plant, and have a high radial symmetry.
The fruits are 3 chambered capsules, or less often, a drupe, and the stipules are occasionally reduced to hairs, glands, spines, or can be absent completely.
The leaves are mostly simple, or if compound, never pinnate, but always palmate, and are generally alternately arranged along the stems, which often contain a milky or watery latex.
Many members are important food and medicinal sources, but many are dangerous due to their poisonous fruits, leaves or sap.
The trees have a wide and varied distribution and can be found over much of the African continent, including Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and the northern parts of South Africa.
They occur naturally in a variety of forested habitats, including sand and coastal dune forests, as well as bushveld and grasslands, where they are often associated with rocky outcrops.
Common in Maputaland, with a scattered distribution in Natal, Transkei, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, from sea level to altitudes of up to 1500 m.
Pale, grey-brown to dark grey, rough with deep rectangular fissures at the base of the trunk, smoother on the upper trunk, with a diameter of 200 – 400mm.
The main stem can be single or multi-stemmed, and branches are frequently arranged in whorls of 3.
The new twigs are angled and slender, yellow-brownish, with a layer of fine, silvery scales and scattered brown dots.
Simple, alternately arranged, elliptic to lance-shaped leaves (20-90 x 10-40 mm).
The upper surfaces are a glossy dark or olive-green, glabrous, and the lower surfaces are covered with a dense layer of silvery hairs.
A scattering of tiny, cinnamon coloured glandular scales (dots) can also be observed on the bottom parts.
The margins are smooth, faintly undulating, the tips broadly tapering to somewhat pointy, and the bases curved to shallowly lobed.
The leafstalk is narrow (10-70 mm), silvery, pale yellow-green, with orange lenticels and 2 small glands where is joins up with the leaf blade.
The leaves emit a strong, aromatic fragrance when crushed, and a single, bright orange leaf is often visible.
Drooping spikes (100 -150 mm), of reddish-brown buds that remain closed and conspicuous on the tree during the dry season.
With the first rains of the next season, they typically open into masses of tiny (4-6 mm diameter), creamy, golden-yellow, star-like flowers.
Both sexes are carried together, and there are usually 1-2 female flowers towards the base, and the rest are male.
A three-lobed capsule (8-10 mm diameter), maturing from green to silvery yellow, with faintly visible orange speckles
The fruit tends to dry out while still on the tree, and explodes rather than splits open, scattering the seeds far and wide.
A wide range of complex chemical compounds have been isolated from the Croton genus, including alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins, cardenolides, monoterpenoids and diterpenoids, which are toxic skin and mucous membrane irritants, and produce a burning sensation in the throat and mouth.
Even though some parts of the plant can be potentially harmful, it has many medicinal uses and is an important stock-feed in certain areas. Pulverized bark, steeped in milk, is taken to treat stomach ailments, indigestion, and as a purgative.
The powdered bark is sometimes mixed with other ingredients and taken in various forms to treat inflammation and swellings, chest pains, dropsy, uterine disorders, fever and rheumatism.
The bark is also burnt and crushed, and the powder is applied to bleeding gums.
The leaves are heated on coals and the fumes, or the steam, is inhaled to treat coughs, fever and insomnia, while mixtures of the bark and roots are used to treat various respiratory ailments.
A water-based infusion of the leaves is taken to treat dysentery.
An eyedrop for animals is also made from cold leaf infusions.
Traditionally, the highly aromatic leaves are dried and pulverized, then used to make a pleasant perfume, and hot water extracts have been used a s a good lavender water substitute.
The peeled, dried and powdered roots are mixed with petroleum jelly to make a fragrant skin ointment.
Boiled leaves can be used as soap.
The timber is hard, heavy, works relatively well, and is resistant to attracts from termite and borer.
It has been used to make furniture, walking sticks, fencing posts and in the construction of huts.
The plant is well known for its various medicinal uses, but care should be taken as there are reports of it being poisonous in excessive quantities.
The masses of golden-yellow flowers attract bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, moths and the multitude of insects lured will in turn attract insectivorous birds.
Seed eating birds are also lured, as they eat the seeds from the open seedpods.
The foliage is often browsed by game, livestock and smaller mammals, and the trees are also the larval host plant of the Green-veined Charaxes butterflies.
The trees are adaptable and versatile, as well a highly decorative.
They can easily be trimmed and kept down to large shrub size for smaller gardens and containers or left to grow into quite large trees perfectly suited for parks, street planting, parking lots and large open lawns or big gardens.
Able to thrive in a sunny or partially shady area, water-wise and attractive throughout the year (the autumn colours are a beautiful, dark yellow), the Croton is a distinguished specimen that will add a flamboyant touch to any garden, while adapting to size restrictions.
Once established, the trees can withstand periods of drought, but can survive only very mild frosts.
Moderate but can be fast growing in warm climates.
Full sun or semi shade. (6-8 hours direct sunlight per day).
Soil & Water
Although they are capable of surviving in clayish or sandy soils, they prefer compost enriched, well-drained, loamy soils with a neutral ph.
They are generally water wise, but during very hot and dry spells extra water should be given. (20l or more 3-4 times per week).
For added moisture retention, a layer mulch can be strewn around the trees).
It is advisable to collect seeds from the tree just before they are dispersed, and the store them in an airtight container in a dry, cool place.
Sow the seeds in a well-drained, compost rich seedling mixture with added river sand (1:2), and then cover them with an additional, thin layer of fine sand.
Store the trays in a bright, temperate area, mist the soil often, but don’t let it get too wet.
Germination usually occurs within 3-4 weeks. Once the seedlings have established, less water should be given, and a fungicide can be applied to prevent mildew setting in.
When the seedlings have developed their first proper leaves, or are between 40 and 60 mm tall, they can be transplanted into individual containers