FAMILY: Euphorbiaceae—the Spurge Family
This family of worldwide distribution contains many genera. Economically the family is very important for ornamental plants and for providing rubber, edible roots and fruits, and medicinals. Poisonous properties are also common in members of this family.
Plants in the Euphorbiaceae are diverse in appearance. Generally, flowers: regular, hypogynous, and unisexual; calyx: present or absent; petals: usually absent; stamens: 1 to many, sometimes with branched filaments; ovary: superior, usually 3-celled; fruit: a capsule splitting into 3, 1-seeded sections. Plants are often succulent and cactuslike with milky or watery juice.
The type genus, Euphorbia, has a compact inflorescence called a cyathium, a structure simulating a complete flower. The individual "flower" is actually a floral-cluster, usually consisting of 1 female with a single pistil and several male flowers each with one stamen, all on a jointed pedicel. The flowers of the cyathium are enclosed in a cuplike involucre, which often contains glands and appendages and may be subtended by brightly colored bracts (e.g the red "petals" of a poinsettia "flower'').
PHENOLOGY: Codiaeum are house plants used in interior decorating. Under optimal conditions, they may flower indoors in our northern climate.
DISTRIBUTION: Crotons are grown under glass around office and home for their colored ornamental foliage. These plants are native to the Malay Peninsula and Pacific Islands.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Codiaeum has the following characteristics; leaves: alternate simple, rarely lobed, leathery, glabrous, petioled, and variously colored; and flowers: small, in axillary racemes.
POISONOUS PARTS: Leaves, stems, and flowers are considered potentially poisonous. Some species in the genus are edible; young, yellow varieties eaten in the East Indies are reported to be sweet. House plant varieties contain irritant juices that may be noxious or allergenic. Croton juices are used medicinally as purgatives, abortifacients, sudatories, and antitussives.
SYMPTOMS: Digestive upset results from ingestion. Allergic reactions may occur upon contact.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The toxins are currently unidentified. Some plants may contain caustic latex. The plant sap also contains 6-8% tannin.
CONFUSED TAXA: The common name croton (genus Codiaeum) should not be confused with the genus Croton. Plants in the former genus are glabrous, whereas in the latter they bear stellate pubescence.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Because the variegated laurels are house plants, probably only children and pets are potentially at risk.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26); (1)
OF INTEREST: Many members of this family are moderately to severely poisonous. Croton, mentioned above, is occasionally encountered in dry, sandy soil and waste places in Pennsylvania. It is known to contain acrid, irritant principles.