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Croton is a popular ornamental plant, kept mainly for its leaf color and variety of varieties. The miracle shrub comes from tropical Southeast Asia and northern Australia and, due to its sensitivity to cold, 15°C is the minimum temperature, should ideally be kept indoors all year round. Due to the closeness of the plant to humans and animals, many owners wonder whether Codiaeum variegatum is a poisonous plant like many other tropical plants.
Yes, croton is poisonous, which is particularly evident from the ingredients and the fact that it belongs to the spurge family (bot. Euphorbiaceae), which is known for its poisonous species. Like other taxa of the family, such as poinsettias (bot. Euphorbia pulcherrima) or miracle trees (bot. Ricinus communis), croton produces a white milky sap that is slightly poisonous. In addition to the milky sap, the following parts of the plant are poisonous:
The flowers are less toxic compared to the rest of the plant and in Europe mainly develop with age. The following ingredients have been detected in Codiaeum variegatum and are responsible for their toxicity:
Terpenes are compounds made by many plants and have a variety of functions. In the case of the croton plant, the terpenes are an anti-feedant that is extremely bitter and reseals potential animal or human wounds. Two types of terpenes are produced by the plant:
- diterpene ester
- triterpene esters
The terpenes it contains are the most common cause of irritation in the spurge family when they come into contact with the skin or mucous membranes of their predators. At the same time, they act as a bitter substance, which is responsible for the inedibility of the croton. They consist of isoprene units, i.e. hydrocarbons. They are not only considered harmful, but also flammable.
2. Phorbol Ester
These ingredients are considered particularly dangerous and are found in numerous spurge plants. The substances are actually harmless alcohols within the diterpenes. However, their esters are highly toxic and also have an irritating effect on the skin and mucous membranes, only much more intensely. For example, they decompose tissue and, in the long term, promote the development of cancer. Phorbol esters are not only found in Codiaeum variegatum and other plants, but also in foods that you may eat more frequently, such as honey. However, this is only the case if the plant is approached by bees, which is rarely the case in Europe.
The 5-deoxyingenol or 5-deoxyingenol 3-angelate 20-acetate is a toxin found in all plant parts of croton and is a part of ingenol mebutate. Ingenol mebutate occurs, for example, in the garden spurge (bot. Euphorbia peplus) and is used in medicine to treat actinic keratosis. However, the substance itself is not non-toxic to humans and causes severe rashes, blistering, and tissue damage. The substance is also being examined for possible carcinogenic properties.
4. Unspecified oil
There is also an oil in the plant that has not yet been sufficiently researched. However, it is known to be a carcinogen. Carcinogens are substances that have a cancer-promoting effect on the organism and mainly through the consumption of the plant parts, not through external contact with the milky sap. In addition to being a carcinogen, the oil acts as a powerful laxative. For this, certain amounts of the plant parts of the miracle shrub must also be consumed.
All of these ingredients combine to make you toxic mix, which has a particularly damaging effect on children and sensitive people. You should also make sure that the milky sap produced by the crayfish is still white, but not as intense as in other spurge taxa. As this may appear transparent at times, care should be taken when caring for the plant as the milky sap is still there. The concentration of the ingredients does not depend on the age of the plant. This means that even young croton specimens should not be underestimated.
tip: Do not confuse the miracle shrub with the croton olive tree (bot. Croton tiglium), which also belongs to the spurge family. The toxicity of the croton oil tree is similar to that of the crab flower, but is significantly stronger and can increase the risk of cancer, especially skin cancer, even in healthy people.
effect on people
Humans are quickly at risk of being poisoned by Codiaeum variegatum. Since the concentration of toxins in the croton plant is not exactly low, even small amounts lead to symptoms of poisoning. While an adult person does not suffer from serious poisoning that quickly, children, the elderly and sensitive people should not go near the codiaeum variegatum or only under supervision. The following symptoms can appear:
- irritation of the mucous membranes
- irritation of the skin
- Tissue damage to mucous membranes and skin
- Eczema to scarring
- Coma less often leading to death (children more affected)
Few deaths from the plant are known to date. However, several children and some adults have died from consuming larger amounts, although no lethal dose is known. Dealing with the plant itself, however, is easy. When grooming, especially when cutting, always wear gloves and closed clothes. In addition, the croton plant should be placed so that children cannot play under it and it is not easy to reach. You should also convey to your older children and people in the house that the miracle shrub is poisonous.
In the event of poisoning by the plant, you should consider the following points:
- keep Calm
- administer fluid
- tea or water only
- alternatively give activated charcoal
- observe the condition of the poisoned person throughout the period
- pay special attention to vital functions
- call emergency services
- Contact poison control center
As described above, croton poisoning can quickly lead to a coma. Therefore, quick action is required, especially if large amounts have been consumed and children are affected. This is the only way to avoid major damage.
effect on animals
The croton plant is not only dangerous for humans. The animal's best friend, the dog, should also refrain from the growth. Since dogs generally respond poorly to any form of alcohol and many of the ingredients are alcohol-based, poisoning is often very severe and can be extremely devastating to the animal. Typical symptoms include:
- Diarrhea; bloody diarrhea possible
- disturbances of consciousness
- Burning in the mouth, throat and pharynx
- redness of the nose
- increased salivation
- Redness and irritation of the affected mucous membranes
- coma to death
Reddening of the skin is not necessarily a problem for the four-legged friends, as they are protected from the milky juice by their fur. Therefore, you should exercise more caution if you have a dog without a coat, such as a Peruvian Hairless Dog or a Chinese Crested Dog. They can also easily injure themselves on the plants as soon as the skin comes into contact with the milky sap. Since the dog's skin is not significantly thicker, the spurge plant is just as poisonous. Adult dogs will often ditch the plant once they taste it, as it tastes very bitter. However, the following four-legged friends are more at risk:
- Ill animals
Since puppies and older dogs either have a poor sense of taste or are losing it, they do not perceive the unpleasant taste of the plant well enough. The same applies to sick dogs whose sense of taste or smell is destroyed. In case of poisoning, you should immediately take a leaf of the plant to the veterinarian for examination.
tip: For horses and cattle, the crayfish plant is not dangerous in most cases, but the reason for this is not the amount of the poison, but the location. Since the plant spends a lot of time in people's living quarters, even in midsummer, these animals find it difficult to get to the spurge plant, which significantly reduces the risk of poisoning.
Croton is just as dangerous to cats as it is to man's best friend. Since the animal is significantly smaller than dogs and has a more sensitive organism, the risk of poisoning is significantly higher. Symptoms are similar to dogs and hairless cats. Sphynxes are more exposed to possible skin irritations. They poison themselves more often than other animals because their sense of taste and smell is quite weak. As they explore their surroundings by chewing on plants and playing with the flowers and seeds, they become poisoned within a short period of time. The following measures help to protect the animal from the miracle shrub:
- shut off with a decorative grid
- put in separate room
- Put scratching posts nearby
- Feed cat grass
It is particularly easy if you keep an eye on your cat and shoo it away from the plant. If the house tiger stays at home alone for a long time, you should place the plant in a room that the cat cannot reach.
rodents and rabbits
Rodents and rabbits are particularly endangered by the crayfish plant, since the concentration of toxins is extremely high compared to the organism. Since animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, or hamsters like to chew on plants, the plant poses a greater threat to them. Mice, for example, are not as focused on plant-based foods. But rabbits and hares have one major advantage over rodents: their sense of taste. Since hares are extremely choosy and perceive the strong bitter substances well, they usually let go after a short try. Symptoms from consumption overlap with those of dogs and cats, but are more pronounced.
tip: In addition to rodents, croton is also highly toxic to birds and, if consumed in large quantities, can lead to comatose states and even death, as well as severe diarrhea. Because birds' sense of taste is extremely poor compared to mammals, they will attempt to eat the seeds if your specimen has developed any when it is old.
notice: Please note that this article is by no means a substitute for a doctor's visit. There is no guarantee of the correctness of medical statements.
Detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on the poison control centers can be found here.