Jatropha integerrima is an evergreen, broadleaf ornamental that is native to the Caribbean islands and grows well in warmer parts of Florida. It is related to jatropha curcas that is grown commercially to produce oil used in biodiesel fuel. Jatropha requires so little care and maintenance that is sometimes planted in highway mediums; in the West Indies it grows in wasteland.
Although jatropha can be started from seeds, it is usually grown from seedlings sold by nurseries. Buying a jatropha integerrima seedling can be confusing unless you are aware of its several names. In the literature jatropha integerrima is also called jatropha hastata. Florida nurseries sometimes sell it as peregrina, which is Spanish for a female pilgrim. It is also popularly called spicy jatropha, fire-cracker, physic nut or Barbados nut. A smaller cultivar is marketed as jatropha integerrima “Compacta.”
Climate and Soil
Jatropha will do well in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10 and 11, growing climates similar that of Caribbean islands. They may encounter problems in USDA Zones 9B and 10A. Jatropha grows and blooms best in locations that are dry, hot and sunny; frost will damage it. Although it likes sun, jatropha will tolerate some shade. Jatropha will tolerate soil that is acidic or alkaline. It will grow in clay, sand or loam, as long as it is well drained. Jatropha will not tolerate salt.
Jatropha is an evergreen shrub with multiple slender trunks that can grow as high as 15 feet tall with a spread of 10 feet. It has glossy leaves and produces year-around, upright clusters of bright red, star-shaped flowers that attract bees and butterflies. It also produces small, red seed capsules or berries that contain toxins. Jatropha can be grown in large containers on decks or patios.
Jatropha tends to become thin if it is watered too much; it will tolerate drought. Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer once or twice a year. Put mulch underneath jatropha to reduce weeds.
Jatropha’s multiple trunks and stems form a weeping, symmetrical clump of thinly-clothed branches close to the ground. It can be staked and pruned to grow on one trunk for the first 2 or 3 feet.
Jatropha seeds, fruit and sap contain toxalbumin, a toxin. Children may be attracted to the red berries--if they are eaten, the toxalbumin in them can cause depression of the central nervous system, gastroenteritis and bleeding. For information on the symptoms and treatment for this poison, go to the link of the International Programme on Chemical Safety located in the reference section of this article.