Habitat: Dry areas in the equatorial belt all over the world.
Cultivation: Easy, full exposure to sunlight, high temperatures and watering regular in summer and replaced with unfrequent nebulizations in Winter will make you Jatropha thrive.
Curiosity: The name is derived from the Greek words iatros, ‘doctor’, and trophe, ‘nutrition’. Which explains why in English, plants of this genus are also called physic nut.
Jatropha is a wide genus in the family of Euphorbiaceae, including around 175 species, native to central America but widespread all over the world in the equatorial belt.
These species can be rather different from each other however, in general, they are mainly evergreen or semievergreen and caudiciform, with a habit that range from little plants, to shrubs, to trees!
Their stem is generally not so long and branched. Some species also show enlarged stems, modified to supply the water needs during dry seasons. We said, above, that Jatropha are caudiciform plants: this means that they usually have a caudex. The caudex is an evolutionary device to survive droughts and lack of nutrients, as it’s an enlarged part of the base of the stems in plants from arid regions, used as a stock of water and nutrients. Its caudex has made Jathropha earn the common name of “Buddha’s belly” for its particular shape of its caudex, which is a swollen grayish-white body, slightly oval.
Leaves of Jatropha are usually big and palmate, with the leaflets developing from a central point . Its leaves are one of the reason why Jatropha is so appreciated in the world of ornamental plants: with their big dimensions and their beautiful shape, in addiction to the evergreen habit of the plant, they make Jathropha the perfect houseplant. In some species, leaves show a purple tinge, more noticeable along the leaf veins.
Inflorescences are usually abundant racemes (which are like clusters, in botanical language), of generally scarled red stems, which end up in red little flowers with five petals, with a fleshy central yellow part. As in any Euphorbiaceae plant, flowers are divided into male and female ones (unlike in most plants, in which flowers are hermaphrodites). Female flowers stand in the central part of the inflorescence and are all surrounded by small and typically red-orange male flowers, formed in a different period than the female ones. Usually this plant blooms throughout the year, if the climatic conditions allow it.
Another peculiarity of Jatropha are its fruits: rounded, similar to little green plums when fresh, turning first yellow as they age and then, once mature, dark brown- black, they are, in botany world, called capsules. A capsule is a kind of dry, dehiscent fruit, usually containing numerous seeds. Dehiscent means that it opens by itself when mature, allowing seeds to spread. Some fruits in fact, don’t even open: for example, chestnuts, and but also cherries, plums and apricots! In Jatropha, capsules open along three suture lines, dividing the open fruit into three perfectly equal parts.
Its little, brown seeds are actually toxic, but they can be used to produce biodiesel. In particular, Jatropha curcas is very promising in this area of application, because of the high percentage in oil in its seeds (140%!) and its remarkable resistance to drought that makes it suitable for cultivation also in dry and poor regions of the planet, unlike most other vegetal sources of biodiesel such as maize and sugar cane, which need plenty of water to be grown. Also, its toxicity erases the problem of the competition between alimentary use and use as biofuel, typical of all the biomass-biofuel crops. In conclusion, Jatropha could play an important role in the transition towards sustanaibility!
VARIETY AND TYPES
Here are some species of Jatropha. Check our online shop to find them!
- Jatropha angustifolia
- Jatropha aspleniifolia
- Jatropha bartlettii
- Jatropha bornmuelleri
- Jatropha campestris
- Jatropha capensis
- Jatropha cardiophylla
- Jatropha confusa
- Jatropha curcas
- Jatropha decumbens
- Jatropha dioica
- Jatropha divaricata
- Jatropha elbae
- Jatropha elliptica
- Jatropha excisa
- Jatropha flavovirens
- Jatropha fortunatoi
- Jatropha fremontioides
- Jatropha gallabatensis
- Jatropha tropaeolifolia
- Jatropha tupifolia
- Jatropha uncinulata
- Jatropha unicostata
- Jatropha variabilis
- Jatropha variegata
- Jatropha variifolia
- Jatropha velutina
- Jatropha vernicosa
- Jatropha villosa
- Jatropha weberbaueri
TIPS FOR GROWING
Due to its wide area of distribution, Jatrophas are tough plant, easy to cultuvate. Here are our cultivation tips:
- Put your Jatropha in a bright spot, as long as it’s sheltered from direct sunlights at least in summer during the hottest hours of the day. In a shaded position, Jatropha may not bloom: let it receive sunlight!
- Jatropha is not a frost-tolerant species: we advice to keep it indoors in Winter, at temperatures never below 10ºC.
Its vegetative period goes form March to October. In this period, watering should be regular, always waiting though for the soil to dry completely before each watering. In winter, instead, water your Jatropha rarely by nebulizing its leaves.
- The substrate for Jatrophas should be very well-drained but, unlike in most succulents, also very rich in nutrients.
- Fertilization should be carried out once a month during the vegetative period, with a specific fertilizer for succulents.
- Repotting is usually not so frequent, however every species has specifical necessities. In general, any plant needs to have an equilibrium between the dimensions of the upper part (stems and leaves), and the lower part (roots). Consequently, when you notice that the upper part has become rather bigger than the pot, proceed with the repotting.
Propagation can be carried out both through seeds and cuttings. Sowing is the easiest method to reproduce your Jatropha, however cuttings is the most frequently used. Cuttings can be obtained from a branch of the mother plant and planted into a substrate made of a standard succulent soil added with some sand and some shredded pumice.