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How to Prune a Jatropha Podagrica

By Jacob J. Wright ; Updated September 21, 2017

Gout-plant (Jatropha podagrica) is a tropical, frost-sensitive succulent plant known for its bulbing stem base, maple-like foliage and vivid orange-red flowers. Also called bottle-plant, its lightly bristled stem is pachycaulous, meaning it has a swollen, calloused base. It can grow to be a tiny tree of sorts, up to 8 feet.

Prune this succulent with care; cut into the juicy but firm stems when the weather is arid so risk of rot is diminished. Drastically cut back of stems to the swollen base to encourage new stems to grow.

Remove dead or soft/rotting stems and leaves anytime of year, ideally when there is little ambient humidity and rain is not forecast for 3 or more days. Make the one-motion, crisp cut by the pruner blades into the stem 1/4 to 1/2 inch below the dead or diseased area. Make the cut into firm, healthy stem tissue.

Wipe off the blades of the pruner between cuts. The juices, particularly those from areas removed that may be rotting or diseased, must be removed before another pruning cut is made. Consider pouring rubbing alcohol on the blades to kill any fungus or other pathogen; you don't want to spread a pest or problem to a healthy tissue in a subsequent cut.

Snap off unattractive or dead leaves at the leaf stem, or petiole, base on the main plant trunk(s). Do this any time of year.

Severely reduce long, leggy stems of the plant to rejuvenate the plant when weather is warm and dry. In tropical areas, do this drastic pruning in the dry season. Ideally, a rejuvenating prune is best in the dry weeks of spring as temperatures warm but copious rainfall and humidity will not promote any rotting of pruning wounds on the gout-plant.

Make the rejuvenating cuts at a low level to you needs, never into the swollen base of the stem. Make an even, one-motion cut into healthy, firm stem tissue. Allow the wound to air dry for several days, callousing over naturally.

Avoid changing any aspect of the growing conditions after the pruning. The gout-plant is a resilient plant and will naturally bud new stems to arise from the swollen base or just under the pruning cut. As long as there is ample warmth and sunlight, the plant will send out healthy new growth within 4 to 8 weeks.


Things You Will Need

  • Hand pruners (secateurs)
  • Paper towel/disposable rag
  • Rubbing alchohol


  • If grown indoors as a houseplant, pruning can be done nearly anytime of year provided it is not over-watered afterwards. Ideally prune the houseplant in late spring so it has strong sunlight to encourage healthy new growth across the summer.
  • The tips of removed branches, if not rotten, can be air-dried until the wound is calloused and planted in fast-draining, moist and warm sand to root and form new plants. Cuttings will not form a swollen stem base, unlike those plants raised from seed.


  • Do not cut stems of Jatropha podagrica during the tropical rainy season, as the high humidity and frequent rainfalls will cause the cut stem to likely soften and rot away. Excessive rot will continue unimpeded all the way into the swollen base, eventually killing the plant.
  • Wash your hands after handling the juice of this plant. Do not eat or place your hand near your eyes if there are juices remaining on your fingers, sleeves or hands.

About the Author


Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.