Interesting Article from 2005


Esteemed Member
Here is an excert from a 2005 article I found on line today: :)

But the colorful, slow-growing, drought-tolerant and hearty plant is making a comeback, and none too soon. As developers bulldoze old houses to make way for bigger homes, and rambling backyards morph into swimming pools and lanais, a dedicated group of hobbyists and professional growers is urgently scouting old neighborhoods and neglected gardens to rescue many of the remaining plants. They're on a mission to find the crotons of yesteryear before they disappear.

"It's gotten so hard to find these old crotons, it's almost tragic," says Harold Lee, a Tampa landscape designer and vice president of the Croton Society, a Tampa-based plant society with 180 members from across the U.S., the Caribbean, Central America, even Australia and Japan. "I've collected quite a few plants, from heliconias to gingers and palms, but when I got to crotons I stopped," says Lee. "This is such a wonderful, diverse plant with such a fascinating history."

The Croton Society, which formed in the Tampa area about six years ago, has garnered a following on both coasts. Its Web site,, offers a wealth of information about plant history and care and exhorts members to "Start cruising! your area to locate interesting crotons, especially in old neighborhoods"--admonishing them, of course, to "always ask permission first" before taking cuttings.

"We are on a quest," Lee says. "The interest in these plants is just exploding. People are coming out of the woodwork to take part in this search. Right now, the horticultural arena is crazy about crotons."

CROTONS do flower, but it's the plant that's showy, not the flower. They grow in a virtual kaleidoscope of colors and patterns with leathery or waxy leaves that can be long, thin and screwy, oak leaf shaped or large and broad shaped.

Finding and identifying old varieties is a priority of the Croton Society and the main reason the group formed. "About 10 of us got together and decided that we had to do something," Lee remembers. "We agreed that we all love these plants, and we wanted to see how many we could find and move before they disappear."

When found, rare varieties are often replanted in botanical gardens .. . Sunken Gardens, in St. Petersburg, Florida is one such repository. The garden has exhibited crotons since the early 1950s, but the collection, now named The Croton Patch, has grown considerably lately, thanks to the efforts of the Croton Society.

Finding the rare varieties involves legwork to identify the plants, and it takes a while to learn them because there are about 800 known named varieties," Lee says. "I've seen people get into arguments to the point where they'll lose friendships over names of crotons. I'm telling you, there is something really bizarre about this plant."

Melbourne horticulturist and educator Dr. Frank B. Brown, 86, who recently released an updated version of his 1960 book Crotons of the World, agrees, "They're back like gangbusters." Crotons first drew Brown's interest in 1955 when he noticed one growing outside his office. When he contacted the local plant society to inquire about it, he was told that they didn't know anything about crotons. Brown contacted the University of Florida, horticultural groups around the country, even a botanical garden in London, and each time heard the same story. The only tidbit he was able to glean from all of these sources was that crotons grow well in the Bahamas.

"I kept searching, but nobody knew anything," he remembers. "I said, 'Well, somebody should know something,' so I began research for a book. That's when I met the Miami hybridizers."

Over the years, Brown has become a mentor to many croton enthusiasts. "Oh, Lord, they talk to me, they visit me, they're here all of the time," he reports with a chuckle. "Now that the book has been reissued we're getting orders from all over the world. There's great interest coming from Australia."

Bradenton's Reasoner family was exchanging plant material with botanical gardens all over the world by the late 1880s. They sold plants to Northern garden businesses via mail order and the railroads, and published horticultural catalogues continuously from 1883 until 1936. Those catalogues hold valuable clues.

"My father, Bud Reasoner, was a big croton enthusiast," says Andy Reasoner. "As a boy he was collecting and breeding crotons. At one time he had his own collection of 60 to 80 different named varieties of crotons."

Many croton varieties never made it to the catalogues, and many were unnamed. Others were named but not shared. And therein lies part of the croton's intrigue: Many of the plant enthusiasts who hybridized crotons in those early years were secretive about their work. "There was a certain amount of that, and I don't quite get it. But it doesn't surprise me, either, because, as an example, hibiscus people are like that," says Reasoner, whose grandfather, Norman Reasoner, was the founder of the American Hibiscus Society.

Andy Reasoner, who holds a degree in horticulture from the University of Florida, theorizes that many of the older varieties gradually died out because their coloration more of a result of unstable viruses than genetics. The Croton Society's Harold Lee has his own theory about the lost hybrids.

"The Reasoner catalogues document the popular hybrids of the time, and the Reasoners developed many of those hybrids," he says. "But they don't list everything. Most of the early hybridizers didn't have a nursery. They were just hybridizing in their back yards and they were not sharing. There was an ego thing going on."

Thomas Edison was such a fan of crotons that for a time his winter residence in Fort Myers was reported to have the largest collection in the country. During tours of the gardens, visitors can see three of Edison's original crotons, clustered in a shady spot near the entrance to his dock.

Edison's three remaining original crotons were purchased at Reasoner's Tropical Nursery, which had developed several popular hybrids, according to Bob Alonzo, a croton enthusiast who lives in Fort Myers with Robert Halgrim Sr., 99, a family friend and the original curator of Thomas Edison's winter home. Halgrim began hybridizing and collecting crotons in 1920, and he was friendly with several of the Miami hybridizers.

For several years now, Alonzo and other members of the Croton Society have been working with Halgrim, Brown, hybridizers and collectors to identify hybrids. "When I met Mr. Halgrim, I realized there was only a handful of people who could identify the old varieties and that we were running out of time," Alonzo explains. "We've had some successes."

Tapestry is one of those successes. Black with hot pink mottling, this croton had been described to Alonzo by Halgrim. One lone Tapestry was found in the east coast garden of the home once owned by the man who had originally produced it.

"I never thought I'd see Tapestry, but by God, it's back and it's beautiful," Alonzo declares. Halgrim's information has also led to the discovery of other old collections, several in the Bradenton/Palmetto area.

Once a rare croton is found, propagation begins. Crotons are known to be genetically unstable, which means the seedlings don't usually look like parent plants. While crotons are simple to grow from clippings or air layering, getting a hybrid to stabilize can take five years. The Croton Society insiders, a group known to share clippings and knowledge, are quietly distributing Tapestry, but the plant is slow-growing, delicate and not likely to show up at Home Depot any time soon.

LEE would like to see an established nursery propagate older varieties to get them back out into the mainstream. The Croton Society's Web site is receiving inquiries from as far as Angola, and interest in Florida's crotons is great, he reports.

"I couldn't care less about making money on crotons," Lee says. "I just want to see them out there again. When people begin communicating, the plant has a better chance."

In their quest to find rare hybrids, plant enthusiasts have recruited landscapers and homeowners. Everyone is invited to join the hunt.

"We are not going to give up hope," says Alonzo. "The croton is a wonderful part of Florida's horticultural history. We need to get moving before these varieties cannot be found anymore."
Excellent article Ron! Now I want to see & own Tapestry! I've noticed the Society web page has a ton of broken links. Is this the main hub now or is someone going to fix those?

I've seen this article piece before. It's great to re-read it again tonight,thanks!

I'm certainly trying to do my part as are many others here on the forum. And I think collectivly, were all making a huge impact. There have never been so many named varieties has there is now. It's exciting, it's fun and it's rewarding.
That is a good article. What is the source, the author?

I google'd "Robert Halgrim Sr" and I guess he passed away the same year as the article. Bummer. R.I.P.
Excellent article Ron! Now I want to see & own Tapestry! I've noticed the Society web page has a ton of broken links. Is this the main hub now or is someone going to fix those?

I would like to see this become the hub for several reasons. The main one being that I have watched almost every plant society website eventually go into disrepair and neglect because it is always one or two webmasters that posses the knowledge to maintain the site. They may have the knowledge, but then lack the time, or just lose interest.

That is why I developed this format. Anyone can add to, modify, and participate in general discussion and/or add to the online reference. I also included the capacity for the large Hi-Def photos and video of the future.

And secondly, I had hoped that other plant societies would recognize the advantage and also set up shop here. The synergy and similar interests of the Fern Society, The Bomeliad Society, the Orchid Society, the Aroid Society, etc. would feed on each other.

But just the recent experience of having Jungle Gal jump in and put some time into things should prove my point. Think if there were many helping out. That is what has made Wikipedia such a fine resource.
Here is an article on Dr. Frank Brown ...

Dr. Brown and His Gorgeous Valkaria Gardens

Dr. B. Frank Brown with one of his favorites, Ribbon plant or Dracaena sanderana, in his front greenhouse.
Once at a USF Botanical Garden Plant Sale, I met Cleo Millare who works with Dr. B. Frank Brown, accompanying him on his plant collection trips all over the world and managing his nursery. I was impressed with the young man but missed the chance to meet Dr. Brown himself.

I had seen Dr. Brown's books and his ad in Florida Gardening Magazine: Dr. Brown has done it again! He wrote THE book on Crotons and the same for Cordylines and has now written the definitive book, The Amazing Aglaonemas, Houseplant to the World. Here we can raise all of these beautiful plants in our gardens as well as in our homes, and most do very well in shade.

"He just celebrated his 90th birthday and was honored by the naming of a new Science Building at Melbourne High School after him," said my friend Kathy Nelson. She and her husband Wae are editor and publisher of Florida Gardening Magazine, live near and are old friends of this man I held in awe.

When I was asked to give a talk at the Brevard Rare Fruit meeting in Melbourne, I decided this was my chance. The Nelsons made a date and took me to his home and 5 acre nursery/arboretum in Valkaria, Florida, just south of Melbourne.

Wow! This amazing place is open to the public periodically. Check in the magazine for dates and times and make it trip to remember. Even in March, his tropical plants were in fine shape. Some are in a large greenhouse, some under shade cloth in an area he calls The Rainforest, but most are under the dappled shade of pines and palms in the open.

The man himself is thin, straight, agile, and vigorous beyond belief. Even better, he is down to earth, full of wonderful stories as well as plant knowledge, and a kindred spirit to plant people, though he spent his younger years as an esteemed educator, was a Rhodes scholar, principal of Melbourne High for 15 years, and after that Superintendent of Schools.

He has 32 kinds of tropical clumping bamboo.
"He is a man who knows how to get things done," says Wae Nelson. When Dr. Brown asked for woodchips and wasn't getting them, he called the tree trimming company's main office in Pennsylvania. After that he was getting a load a day until he finally got them to cut back a bit. He is a firm believer in mulch, though, so he used all the woodchips.

He is also a recycler. When the hurricanes took down many of the pines that shaded his gardens, he cut them up and used them for edging. The palm trunks he hollowed out and used as planters for bromeliads.

"The Bromeliads are about the easiest plants to grow in Florida, and until 1940 we only had a few natives," he says. "A couple named Foster brought in many kinds." They gave me a start of one they called "Burt" after their son. Now I have dozens. And he pointed out a tree trunk covered with Burts.

Dr. Brown holds some 28 plant patents, mostly for Aglaonemas that he developed by cross breeding. "I never had a class in botany," he says, "but I was an (educational) consultant for the Department of Defense and had extra time when I was in the Phillippines. I kept visiting backyard nurseries and would ask where their plants came from." Since then, he has been all over the world, taking at least three trips a year, sloshing through jungles, roadsides, and local markets to find new and exciting tropical plants.

He was in the mountains of Hawaii when he spotted a variegated Mahoe tree that he had to have. He went back every day and knocked on the door, but no one came, so he went home without a start. The next year, when he got there, he went directly to that spot and knocked. "No one came, so I sat down in a rocker that was on the porch and waited. And while I was rocking, I looked across the road and spotted a whole bunch of prunings from that tree that had been dumped there. I got my cuttings." One of them is now a tree over the shed right behind the pavilion he uses for lectures not far inside the gardens gate.

The gate to his home and nursery is bright with Blanchetiana bromeliads.
The Fosters gave him a start of this bromeliad they called "Burt" after their son," Dr. Brown says. "Now I have dozens."

Check out Dr. Brown's Crotons of the World from the library.
It is the only one of his books in the Hillsborough system. If enough of us ask, perhaps they will get his other ones.