A University of Florida study claims that Jatropha trees are a good option for farmers who are having trouble growing traditional crops. This research states that Jatropha crops does not compete for land that could be used to grow food. Experiments in growing Jatropha trees in order to produce biodiesel fuels are also underway in India, China and Asia.
The Jatropha tree is native to Mexico, but is capable of growing in hot desert areas. It is currently being grown in India, Mexico, Asia, Africa and the United States. The Jatropha tree is a significant plant because it can be grown in areas where there is little rain or where the land is unsuitable for other crops. This means desert landowners who may not have been able to farm previously can now use their land agriculturally, creating jobs.
Size and Shape
The Jatropha tree can grow to a mature height of up to 20 feet tall. It resembles a very tall bush, with branches very close together at the bottom and extending outward to form somewhat of a "V" shape. The mature tree will grow 10 to 12 feet wide. The size and shape of the Jatropha tree makes it an excellent choice for a privacy hedge or barrier to deer.
The Jatropha produces a black nut, which can be harvested twice a year. These nuts are the size of golf balls and can be harvested from the trees as quickly as 18 months after planting the seedlings.
Growth and Yield
The growth of the Jatropha tree is widely influenced by a number of factors. These are: climate, quality of soil, irrigation, weeding, use of fertilizers and pesticides and crop density. The Jatropha tree will sometimes flower year-round in a humid environment. This increases the yield of the fruit substantially as nuts are produced three months after flowers appear. An single Jatropha tree can produce between 15 and 20 kg of fruit per harvest.
The Jatropha tree has been found to be an excellent source of seeds for the production of biodiesel fuel. A square mile of this tree can produce enough seed pods to manufacture 1,000 gallons of oil per year. This oil can be refined to produce an environmentally sound and relatively inexpensive fuel for automobiles and farm equipment.
The Jatropha tree will fare well in almost any type of soil and can even grow in the crevices of rocks. It fares best in tropical climates with very little rainfall. The average temperature should be above freezing year-round, however some of the hardier plants will tolerate an occasional light freeze. The plant thrives better in low altitudes such as those of Central and South America.
The outlook of Jatropha tree farming is very promising. In Lee County, Florida, a one-acre demonstration farm was planted to raise awareness of the plant's potential use in the manufacture of biodiesel. Extension agents there are recommending the plant to farmers whose land may not be suitable for conventional crops. As awareness of this plant's benefits grows, other regions of the country are likely to follow suit.