Jatropha is the name of a genus that includes more than 170 species of succulent plants, perennials and also shrubs and woody trees. The reason for the grouping of such diverse species under one genus is the similarity in flower structure. The most famous species currently making news is Jatropha curcas, but there are is a lot more to this plant genus than its potential for biodiesel manufacture.
Jatropha integerrima---or spicy jatropha---is a drought-tolerant ornamental plant that grows well in Florida and any other locale within hardiness zones 10 and 11. A close relative, Jatropha multifida, a.k.a. the coral plant, grows well into zone 12. Landscapers like this shrub species because it blooms throughout the majority of the year and makes a good border or container plant alongside pools and patios. Its appeal is not lost on the fauna as well, and hobbyists enjoy the presence of these shrubs since they attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
In the vernacular, Jatropha curcas may be referred to as the "physic nut" plant. This is due to the literal translation of the plant's Greek name as "physician nutrition." In spite of the plant's noted toxicity, traditional medicinal practices include the boiling of the leaves as a tea to treat constipation, and it has also been used for ovarian inflammation, according to tropilab.com.
Jatropha curcas grows as a tall shrub in South and Central America but will do well in all tropical regions. The shrub produces fruits with seeds that contain 30 to 35 percent oil. This oil is of interest to companies that specialize in the production of agro fuels.
Jatropha cuneata, a.k.a. the limber bush, is at home in Arizona. It is dormant for most of the year except for a brief growth and flowering period during times of heavy rain or irrigation. Its bark remains smooth and its various branches are very flexible. Hobbyists use these branches for basket making.
Jatropha podagrica, also known as Guatemala rhubarb or Buddha belly, is gaining recognition among garden hobbyists, who prize it for its coral-colored blooms and distinctive shape. Some studies suggest the plant's usefulness for the preparation of antifungal products. This is due to the wide array of toxins contained in the plant's seeds, roots and sap, which include curcin, curcanoleic acid and tetramethylpyrazine.
In spite of their vast usefulness, there is danger associated with Jatropha plants. As early as 1988, the American Association for Cancer Research reported that the oil in the seeds of Jatropha curcas promoted the growth of skin tumors in animal tests. Poisoning symptoms following seed or plant part ingestion appear to be similar among various species and include gastrointestinal upset and a burning sensation in the throat within 30 minutes of consumption.