Jatropha curcas, also known as the Barbados nut or white physic nut, belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family of plants. Other members include the poinsettia, crown of thorns, sandbox tree, rose-flowered jatropha and castor bean. It is native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America, but it is grown worldwide, most prominently in Asia and Africa.
Jatropha curcas can produce seeds for 50 years. The plant is extremely drought resistant. It is a small tree or shrub with spreading branches that can grow from 10 feet to 30 feet depending on the growing conditions. Jatropha curcas has a smooth, gray bark with large pale or dark green leaves and flowers that are bell shaped and yellow that grow in clusters. Flowers appear in September and November and the fruits from October to December. The seeds are considered toxic.
Jatropha curcas does best with well-drained soils, but it can also survive in soils that are low in nutrients. It should be grown in areas where the temperatures range from 68 to 85 degrees F, but it can survive a day or two of frost. Jatropha curcas does need to be planted in as sunny a spot as possible. It needs at least 6 hours of sunshine every day.
For use as hedges, plant already established seedlings. For commercial planting, sow seeds directly into the soil. Seeds should be collected from plants as soon as the seed pods split open. Seeds need to be soaked, then dried, before planting. Seeds should germinate in about 10 days.
Jatropha curcas needs very little water. A good soaking twice a month is plenty. Fertilizer is not necessary, but using organic fertilizer will increase yield. A through weeding should be done four times a year. Do not prune away the side shoots. When the plants are from 90 to 120 days old, prune them back to 10 inches and keep the plant under 6 ½ feet to help increase crop yield.
The oil from the Jatropha curcas seeds is combustible and is used to make biodiesel fuels. The by-products are used to make organic fertilizer. The leaves can also be eaten, steamed or boiled. It is used as a natural fence for gardens because animals not only will not eat it, but stay away from it.