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Croton tiglium L.

Purging croton, Physic-nut, Croton-oil plant

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Studying insecticidal activity of 20 plants to adult females of Uroleuron cathami, Deshmukn and Borle (1975) reported the petroleum ether extracts of purging croton seeds to be most effective (0.125% as toxic as nicotine sulfate). Hager's Handbuch (List and Horhammer, 1969-1979) says it is more effective than Derris extract. Himalaya tribes use the bark in arrow poisons. Bark has been used as a tannin source. Mashiguchi et al. (1977) report on the molluscididal activity of the seed against Oncomelania quadrasi. It is also used to poison fish. When Croton oil was evaluated for possible effects on the P-388 lymphocytic leukemia in mice, significant inhibitory activity was noted. Fractionation of the oil led to characterization of the major component, the phorbol diester, phorbol 12-tiglate 13-decanoate which exhibits significant inhibitory activity at dosages of 60-250 ug per kg body weight against P-388. There is a paradoxical similarity in structure between the cocarcinogenic and antileukemic principles of the Euphorbiaceae and the Thymelaeaceae (Kupchan et al., 1976). Croton oil, a fixed oil expressed from seeds by methods similar to those used to obtain castor oil, is used in human and veterinary medicine as a cathartic, irritant, and rubefacient. Internally, it is a drastic, very rapid purgative or cathartic; applied externally to the skin, it is a powerful local irritant, causing pustular eruptions. When diluted, oil is used as a counter-irritant, and is usually administered with sugar and bread crumbs. In Malaysia, the oil is used more for illumination and soapmaking than for medicine. According to the Wealth of India (C.S.I.R. 1948-1976), "Croton oil appears no longer any place in medical practice." Crushed seeds and leaves, pulverized and put in sacks, are placed in ponds and rivers to stupefy fish.

Folk Medicine

According to Hartwell (1967-1971), the seed oil and bark are used in folk remedies for cancerous sores and tumors. Reported to be cathartic, diaphoretic, ecbolic, emetic, emmenagogue, purgative, rubefacient, and vesicant, purging croton is a folk remedy for apoplexy, cancer, carbuncles, colds, dysentery, fever, flux, paralysis, ranula, scabies, schistosomiasis, skin, snakebite, sore, throat, and toothache (Duke and Wain, 1981). Leaf poulticed onto snakebite in Sumatra. Seed, POISONOUS, employed as purgative in lead colic and cancer; recommended as a revulsive in colds and fever for obstinate diarrhea and dysentery, delayed menstruation, edema, ranula, apoplexy, paralysis, scabies, throat afflictions, toothache. Seed oil recently used in schistosomiasis. Bruised root applied to cancerous sores and carbuncles. Seeds contain one of the most purgative substances known; also quite vesicant; once used as emmenagogue. Homeopathically used for gastroenteritis, pustulose eczema, conjunctivitis, and mastitis. Here the reader should be warned that homeopathic practitioners use some very poisonous plants in very dilute concentrations. Like so many plants, this contains both cancer-causing and cancer correcting compounds. According to Pettit (1977), phorbol is the cocarcinogenic substance of Croton tiglium. For a man, about four seeds, for a horse, about 15 seeds represent a lethal dose. On the other hand, Pettit and Cragg (1978) list Phorbol 12-tiglate 13-decanoate as active at doses of 60-250 ug/kg against the PS-tumor system (Duke and Ayensu, 1984). In Malaya a single kernel is eaten as a purgative; when purging has gone far enough, coconut milk is drunk to stop it.


C.S.I.R. reports that the oil contains 3.4% toxic resin. Of the acids, 37.0% is oleic, 19.0% linoleic, 1.5% arachidic, 0.3% stearic, 0.9% palmitic, 7.5% myristic, 0.6% acetic, 0.8% formic, with traces of lauric, tiglic, valeric, and butyric, plus some unidentified.


Small shrub or tree up to 12 m tall, evergreen; leaves alternate, membranous, ovate with broadly rounded, sometimes slightly decurrent base, acuminate, acute or blunt, very shallowly serrate, glabrous above, with few stellate hairs beneath, 7.5-17 cm long, 4-9.5 cm broad, metallic green to bronze or orange; petiole slender, about 4 cm long; stipules caducous, subulate, 1.5- 3.5 mm long; axis of inflorescence glabrous; flowers small, inconspicuous; male flowers stellately hairy with narrowly oblong petals and 15-20 stamens; female flowers apetalous; capsule scabrid with stellate hairs, triangular, 15-20 mm long, 10-15 mm broad, oblong or ellipsoid, 3-lobed; seeds 3 per fruit, oblong-ovoid, orange, about 12 mm long, smooth, about 4160/kg. Fl. summer; fr. Nov.-Dec.


Reported from the Hindustani Center of Diversity, purging croton or cvs thereof is reported to tolerate drought, insects, and poor soil. (Duke, 1978). In Java, two forms are distinguished: var. tiglium, with ovary and fruit trigonous, and petals of female flower consisting of a glabrous stalked bud, found in West Java; and var. globosus, with ovary subglobose, subtrigonous, with petals linear and hairy at apex, found in East Java. (2n = 10)


Native to tropical Asia from India to New Guinea and Java, north into Indonesia and China. Wild throughout the Philippine Islands, where it is also cultivated to a limited extent; often becoming naturalized after cultivation. Grown in southern California and elsewhere as an ornamental and curious plant.


Ranging from Subtropical Moist to Tropical Very Dry throught Wet Forest Life Zones, purging croton is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 7.0 to 42.9 dm (mean of 8 cases = 20.6), annual temperature of 21.0 to 27.5°C (mean of 8 cases = 25.3), and pH of 4 5 to 7.5 (mean of 6 cases = 6.1). (Duke, 1978, 1979) A dry land plant, adaptable to most tropical climates, up to 1,500 m elevations, not particular as to soil type or texture. Often grown in mixed forests, and commonly planted in and about towns.


Propagated from seed, the seed sown directly in the forest, or in seedbeds and the young plants planted in desired places. It may be cultivated as a pure crop or as an intercrop with cacao or coffee, providing some shade (Reed, 1976).


Plants begin bearing seed in 3 years after planting, and are full-bearing in 6 years. Seeds ripen in November and December, and should be collected before capsules open.

Yields and Economics

Yields in the third year may be 200-750 kg seed/ha, but at full bearing 750-2,000 kg/ha, assuming the cwt/ha in our reference is a metric quintal rather than 100 pounds. Otherwise, the yield reported by Duke (1978) may be the high report at 900 kg seed/ha. Croton oil is produced in India and Europe, with most of the commercial supply of seed being obtained from Sri Lanka and India. Market value of seeds fluctuates considerably depending on demand. United States imports ca 1.5 MT/a oil from Germany and United Kingdom. Export of seeds from Sri Lanka in 1933 was 73,150 cwt.


If seed yields of 900 kg/ha are all that can be expected, this does not seem a promising energy species, especially if it can only be used outdoors. According to Burkill, "the fumes of burning oil indoors are intolerable."

Biotic Factors

Plants are attacked by the following fungi: Cercospora tiglii, Fomes lignosus, Macrophomina phaseoli, Placosphaeria tiglii, and Polyporus hirsutus. They are also attacked by root knot nematodes: Meloidogyne acronea, M. arenaria thamesi, M. hapla, M. incognita acrita, and M. javanica. Trees sometimes attacked by caterpillar, Amyna punctum.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
last update July 8, 1996