The tree occurs only in the northern parts of South Africa, with its main distribution further north. According to Coates Palgrave (2002) it over a wide range of altitudes, in a variety of woodland vegetation types but mainly associated with stony soils and rocky outcrops.
Croton gratissimus has been divided into two varieties, namely; C. gratissimus var. gratissimus and C. gratissimus var. subgratissimus. Variety gratissimus has no hairs on the upper surface, while variety subgratissimus has stellate hairs on the upper surface and occurs mainly in Zimbabwe, Botswana and the far northern areas of South Africa.
The young branches of lavender croton are pleasantly aromatic; and it is recorded that Bushman girls dried these and then powder them to make perfume. The charred and powdered bark is used to treat bleeding gums. Although the plant is believed to be toxic, it is an important stock food in Namibia. It is also a beautiful ornamental plant with pale bark and attractive foliage.
C. gratissimus is a shrub or a small tree that may reach 10 m in height in South Africa, but can grow to 20 m tall further north in Africa. It is a slender tree with fine, drooping foliage and a crown which spreads upwards in a 'V'-shape with drooping terminal branches.
The leaves of the lavender croton are simple and alternate, with a beautiful and striking silvery under-surface. The upper surface is dark green and shiny, without hairs, while the under surface is covered by dense scales producing a silvery colour. Leaves are also dotted with cinnamon coloured glandular scales.
C. gratissimus bears small cream to golden yellow flowers in spikes of about 10 cm long. The small buds are formed and stay on the tree for months before the flowers open. Spikes contain different sex flowers, with only one or two females at the bottom of the spike, and the rest are males.Fruit, formed between September and November, is a three lobed capsule. First green, it turns yellow as it matures. In late autumn the capsule dries out and explodes flinging the seed some distance from the mother plant