A pale white-yellow-flowered, shrubby, perennial plant with a sweet smell that attracts many insects.
Croton pseudopulchellus is usually a perennial shrub up to 4 m tall. Bark grey, smooth to roughish; branchlets reddish brown covered with hairy scales.
Leaves alternate or subopposite, clustered near the ends of branchlets, lanceolate to elliptic, about 60 mm long and 40 mm wide, often with a fine point, the upper surface shiny darkgreen, pale or silvery white below, covered with reddish scales; leaf stalk up to 20 mm long.
Flowers in C. pseudopulchellus are produced in short, compact heads about 12 mm long, at the ends of branches, small and yellow in colour, male and female flowers in the same head. Flowering time is from October to February.
Fruit a capsule, trilocular (with three compartments), dehiscent (opening spontaneously when ripe), covered with yellow-grey hairy scales. Fruiting time is from December to June.
Although Croton pseudopulchellus is used in African medicine, it is declared as a Least Concern plant in the Red List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat
Croton is a genus of about 800 species; mostly pantropical; the majority of species are American. In Africa, 26 species are found in the tropics, extending into the subtropics, mostly to the southern hemisphere and about 11 of these species are well-known in southern Africa of which 10 are confined to South Africa.
Croton pseudopulchellus is distributed in tropical East and West Africa, and descends to southern Africa. The species is found in the north-eastern regions of South Africa along the coastal belt and along rivers and streams, from KwaZulu-Natal, extending further north through Swaziland to Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province.
C. pseudopulchellus occurs at low altitude, from 5–1250 m above sea level, on sandy soils, sometimes on rocky outcrops, usually along rivers and streams. Commonly forms the dominant undershrub in certain types of woodland.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Croton was derived from the Greek word kroton , meaning a ‘tick' in reference to the shape of the seeds which look like a tick. The specific epithet ‘pseudopulchellus' is derived from the Greek word pseudo meaning ‘false' and pulchellus meaning ‘pretty and small' or somewhat attractive; the epithet therefore means ‘the false Croton pulchellus '.
The flowers are attractive to a variety of insects and thus attract insect-eating birds.
Uses and cultural aspects
Croton pseudopulchellus is used in African tribes as a source of traditional medicine. The powder of root bark is applied to syphilitic ulcers. Decoction of root and leaf sap is drunk to treat asthma. The root powder and leaf decoction is drunk for the treatment of headache. The root powder is also used for the treatment of colds. Dried leaves are burnt, and the smoke is inhaled for the treatment of fever. Leaf decoction is rubbed on the chest for colds. Decoction of leafy twigs is drunk for the treatment of gonorrhoea.
Growing Croton pseudopulchellus
The plant is easily propagated by cuttings and may also be propagated from seed. The ripe seeds, removed from fruit, should be planted in bags filled with moist, 1:1 mixture of river sand and compost. Seed germination takes 3–4 weeks. The seedlings can be transplanted into the open ground when they are about 100 mm high. In areas of low temperature, seedlings should be protected against severe winter cold. C. pseudopulchellus seems to need a lot of water, but can tolerate dry conditions too.
References and further reading
- Coates Palgrave, K. 1997. Trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L., Steenkamp, Y. & Keith, M. (eds). 2006. A checklist of South African plants. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 41. SABONET, Pretoria.
- Glen, H. 2004. What's in a name? The meaning of the botanical names of trees. Jacana, Johannesburg.
- Leistner, O.A. 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Leistner, O.A. 2005. Seed plants of southern tropical Africa: families and genera. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 26 . South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Neuwinger, H.D. 2000. African traditional medicine: A dictionary of plant use and applications . Medpharm Scientific Publishers, Stuttgart.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red List of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Schmidt, E., Lotter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana Publishers, Johannesburg.
- Van Wyk, B. [A.E.] & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa, edn 1. Struik, Cape Town.