that if you can: when it comes to
splashy colors, modern art has nothing
on the croton.
I dunno art, but I know what I
Modern art is for idiots. A bit strong, you may say,
but how can an otherwise perfectly sane and rational
segment of the population take a group of blobs, dots
and accidents on canvas seriously?
Maybe I’m being unfair. Officially, modern art is
defined as just about any art that “strays from
portraying things realistically”. That means that an
even wider variety of pretentious nonsense can be
viewed as “inspired” or “extraordinary” by men with
goatee beards or women with comfortable shoes. Not
that I’m generalizing, of course.
I really believe that I’m not alone in this cynicism,
and that a sizable portion of the Western world thinks
that at least some, if not all modern art is a form of
scam; a kind of fake art.
We have some classic examples of “artistic genius”
that have made the news over the years. An unmade bed.
Water pouring out of a tap into a sink. A pile of
bricks. Plastic bags full of rubbish. All won prizes
and sold for thousands.
When you see an Andy Warhol lithograph of someone’s
face in three colors or a Campbell’s soup label, it’s
hard for the average person not to think that they
could have done exactly the same thing themselves with
very little effort, and suspect that Mr Warhol just
chucked some paint on a canvas, splashed it around a
bit and hyped it to the art world.
On the other hand, there are a couple of things that
are abundantly clear. Firstly, the average person
didn’t create a Warhol litho; its weirdness proves
that. More importantly perhaps, the average person
wouldn’t even have thought of it. It may sound as if
I’m arguing against myself here, but the fundamental
point is that this stuff is still complete nonsense.
Jackson Pollock is another one – his stuff really is
the ultimate in artistic cons. A canvas covered in a
series of splashes, smudges and smears? Please. Next
thing you know, they’ll be calling elephant art
masterpieces. Actually, come to think of it, they’re
both very similar…
Anyway, I think Jackson Pollocks’s a complete buffoon.
As Paul Hogan, the Australian actor, said in a beer
commercial while looking at one of his paintings,
He painted in what I can only presume is the same way
as he thought – in a totally random fashions; you
never knew what was coming next.
The plant world is generally a lot neater,
better-organized and predictable. In contrast to most
of its bedfellows, crotons do things a little
differently – they are definitely not your average
plant. I rather think that they come from the Jackson
Pollock side of the evolutionary chain – they just
can’t decide what color or shape they want to be.
Green and uniform they are certainly not. Their leaves
are variegated, which just means that there are
distinct different colors on one leaf. There are of
course a number of variegated leaved plants around,
but the croton, or Codiaeum variegatum, dares to be
different, and takes this idea one step further.
As I write this page on a weekly basis, I should be
able to describe precisely what a croton looks like,
but honestly, I can’t, as they’re all totally
dissimilar. There are certainly a few members of the
family that look similar, but every single croton
plant is unique.
They’re usually a meter or two tall, and have at least
six different leaf shapes, from long and narrow to
wide and oval, or a kind of maple shape. Some even
form themselves into corkscrew arrangements. The
leathery, shiny leaves don’t usually get any longer
than about 15 centimeters.
The colors are without doubt the most amazing thing
about this plant. Most varieties we see in Phuket have
at least two, if not three combinations of colors on
their leaves; green, yellow, pink or red. They also
have as many names as there are varieties, but in Thai
they are typically called koson.
Watching them grow is worthy of one of those
time-lapse films you see on the National Geographic
Channel. The green and red variety, for example, grows
quickly and enthusiastically in plenty of sun, as
you’d expect. What you wouldn’t expect is that the new
leaves are a completely different color from the lower
ones – they initially emerge as light green and
As they begin to grow, they look as if they just can’t
be bothered to be the right color, but over the next
couple of weeks they muster a little energy and gusto,
and eventually decide to change hues. By this stage,
they look as if they belong to the rest of the plant.
It’s thought that the croton came from Moloko in
Indonesia, originally in an all-green form. Over time,
this original variety produced a “sport”, or an
offshoot differing from the parent plant. Since then,
crotons have continued to produce sports as offspring,
and today, the seeds of the plant nearly always
produce plants that look absolutely nothing like their
parents. They should probably be from Manchester.
To this day, new hybrids are still being created,
particularly in Thailand, where the plant is regarded
as being a bearer of good luck. It also brightens up
any spare sunny spot in the garden. It will put up
with just about any treatment, but likes a fair bit of
water. In a pot, it likes plenty of drainage, and will
complain bitterly if the soil gets too muddy.
A sign that the croton is particularly content is when
it produces clusters of small, nondescript flowers.
They’re nothing to write home about, but that’s not a
problem, as the plant is grown entirely for its
You could even bring your potted version indoors. Make
sure it’s near a window to give it plenty of light,
but plenty of heat too. Crotons and air conditioning
are not a happy combination.
If you’re one of those who likes to walk round a
garden trying to identify all plant life present, this
one’s easy in its own particular way. If the leaves
are weirdly multi-colored and you haven’t a clue what
it is, it’s probably a croton. I rather think that Mr.
Pollock would have approved.