English / Français  |  Contact Us
Nova Scotia Museum
Home > Plant Poisons > Croton Print This Page Add Page to Your Favourites


Click image to see larger view of Croton (Codiaeum variegatum) View Larger Image

Croton is an ornamental, often grown in tropical gardens and as a houseplant for its colourful foliage.

It contains an oil with violently purgative and irritating qualities, which is also suspected of being a co-carcinogen. Luckily, it tastes dreadful, so accidental poisonings are rare.

Prevent children from nibbling on the attractive leaves.


All parts of the plant that contain sap, though the sap itself is most toxic. Even dried plant materials retain their poisonous properties.


Volatile oils, resins, alkaloids, and glycosides: quite a cocktail of bad stuff.


Children and others sometimes mistake the seedpods, which resemble capers, for the edible fruit of other plants. Children have been fatally poisoned by sun spurge seeds, for example. Another possibility is medical abuse; there is a case on record in which a woman used snow-on-the-mountain as an abortive, with fatal results. Luckily, in most species, the sap tastes so bitter that few victims persist in eating these plants long enough to be seriously affected.


All spurges cause vomiting, nausea, and/or diarrhea if they are eaten. If that’s not enough to keep you away, consider that handling some species, such as crown of thorns and poinsettia, can cause skin rashes, blistering, and eye irritation (remember your mother telling you, “Don’t rub your eyes with those dirty fingers”?). High doses result in intense burning of the mouth, throat, and stomach; uncontrollable salivation; convulsions; and sometimes, coma and death. So, grow the pretty plants in your house or garden, but wear gloves to prune them and discourage the cat from trying a bit of salad, please.


Carcinogens and co-carcinogens

A plant is identified as carcinogenic when it is shown to cause cancer in persons touching or eating it.

A plant is said to be co-carcinogenic when it causes cancer only in conjunction with some other substance. Roquefort and camembert cheese moulds, daphne, and poinsettias, for example, can cause cancer only if the victim eats them while taking certain prescription drugs.

Proteins and Amino Acids

Proteins and amino acids are complex chemicals necessary to all living cells; most are highly beneficial, not harmful. Chains of amino acids form proteins; if more than two are joined, they are called peptides, rings of amino acids joined together make cyclopeptides like amanitins, some of which are the most deadly poisons known.

Resins and Volatile Oils

Resins and volatile oils are derived mostly from hydrocarbons—chemicals composed of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. This group of poisons is very diverse.




Poison Centre Information
Nova Scotia Museum