Jatropha, also called a Coral Plant, is a beautiful, gorgeous shrub-like tree (or tree-like shrub) that produces the most wonderful green foliage, flat pod fruits and cute little flowers. These buds come in a range of hues between red, dark orange, coral, bright pink and even hints of purple.
If you want to grow this fabulous tree-like shrub, you’ll want to start with germinating seeds. It’s fairly simple in concept, but it does take a little bit of tending to. However, once they grow a taproot and take root in the soil, they’re solid survivors and will often self-propagate to an invasive degree.
About the Jatropha
Jatropha is a genus of Coral Plant with around 175 species of succulent shrubs, trees and plants. The name is a compound of two Greek root words, iatros, which means physician and trophe, which means nutrition. It’s native to Mexico and Central America but naturalized in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide.
Aside from being a decorative element, it also provides a host of practical uses. Although more research needs validation, many parts of this plant are helpful in the treatment of a variety of ailments for animals and humans.
The white latex production from Jatropha makes an excellent oral disinfectant and treatment for children. In addition, the alkaloids in Jatropha latex has anti-cancer properties for humans and is effective against skin diseases in cattle.
The phytochemistry of the leaves is useful against muscular and rheumatic pains as well as malaria. It also has many antibiotic qualities against things like Staphylococcus and E. Coli. Even the roots contain an antidote against snake venom. An extract from the roots helps with bleeding gums, and soap made from seed oil is excellent against buttons.
Biodiesel & Environmental Uses
A lot of scientific research points to Jatropha having promising viability in being a biofuel. Although there is a bit of a debate over its effectiveness as fuel, the seed oil percentages range between 27% to 40% oil. Other experts estimate that one acre of Jatropha can yield an average of 202 gallons of biodiesel.
The viability of relying on this as an agriculture crop for biofuels is iffy because of the unstable performance plants tend to produce. This is because no Jatropha varieties have ever been properly domesticated. So, this results in variable productivity. Plus, science has yet to perform an impact analysis on the environment and soil quality in larger agricultural crop operations.
But, it can help reduce CO2 emissions and serve as a carbon sequestration plant. This means this Coral Plant has the capability to help reduce harmful toxicity in the environment.
About Growing Jatropha
Jatropha germination is fairly easy, but it does have its trickiness and difficulties. Once the root establishes it’s a very hardy plant but very fragile if not grown in the right conditions. However, in an ideal environment, they will grow and propagate in ways that are difficult to control
Unfortunately, this plant will only grow in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11. It simply won’t survive anywhere else. Unless you can be meticulous about light, heat, soil and other conditions, anything less will destroy it. Even the lightest frost will cause it to die.
Seed Selection, Care & Handling
Propagation from seed germination is the best way to grow Jatropha because it develops a taproot. Therefore, the seeds you select for germination will be a crucial factor in growing success. The seeds should be large, plump and healthy-looking. Your supplier should store them at 77°F (25°C), and they should be dry.
Storage, Selection & Appearance
Seed storage should be in a cool, dark and airy place where they can remain undisturbed. Never store or dry the seeds in direct sunlight. Discard small, misshapen and discoloured seeds. Seeds older than a year will not germinate properly, if at all.
Take care in handling the seeds because they are toxic to humans and animals. Wear a pair of latex or durable gardening gloves when preparing the seeds. If your skin does contact them, remember not to touch anything else and wash your hands well afterwards.
Propagation via Cutting & Grafting
Although direct seeding is best because it produces a taproot, you can also propagate a Jatropha tree from a cutting and then graft it. However, cutting and grafting will make more lateral roots without a taproot. This means it may become more sensitive to drought.
Except for soft cuttings, it will become a full-plant more quickly than if it started from seed. This means that it will produce more beautiful flowers a lot sooner too. But, starting it from seed is better in comparison.
Soil Type & Fertility
Because Jatropha is native to subtropical and tropical climates, soil type, pH, and nutrition are necessary considerations. The soil you use for starting the seeds should be sterile, light, well-draining and loamy with a mid-range nutrient composition. It should mimic the same soil as its final resting spot.
You also want to make sure there isn’t too much clay or silt. The only time it will be okay is if you plan on putting the shrub/tree on a hill or other area with a good runoff capacity. Of course, some can tolerate any soil, while others require careful attention to the soil’s composition.
Also, ensure the soil maintains a pH balance of 6.0 to 7.0. Jatropha can handle a pH as low as 5.5, but it should never exceed 7.0.
Watering, Humidity & Rainfall
The soil shouldn’t be wet but moistened well every day for the first 10 days when starting germination. Once germination takes hold, water the plant every seven to 10 days. Any amount of overwatering or too much humidity in the air will kill a Jatropha.
In the event of a flood, Jatropha trees will incur root rot almost immediately. That said, it is possible to grow Jatropha in areas with a high water table. But, the water table must be stable. Fluctuations in the rain will stress the plant in the same way as flooding.
Sunlight, Temperature & Warmth
Almost all types of Jatropha love either partial shade or full sun. If you have soil that stays damp for long periods of time after it rains, you may want to consider putting it in full sun. But, if you have arid soil, it may be best to put it in partial shade.
Since they mostly grow in hardiness zones between 10 and 11, the plant must stay warm enough all year round. Therefore, the plant can survive well in temperatures above 40°F (4°C). Anything less will kill it.
Pests & Diseases
Jatropha is a hardy plant resistant to many pests due to the high toxicity of the compounds within every part of the plant. However, it still does incur some pests, and it can easily succumb to certain diseases. The first and most important one is root rot due to overwatering or drastic changes in rainfall.
Other common problems that can happen with Jatropha are:
- Leaf Spot is a fungal disease that appears as a cream to light brown rounded leaf lesions with a dark brown halo. Again, this tends to be more of an issue with crop production than individual, personalized plants.
- Powdery Mildew – A fungal disease with an abundance of greyish-white fuzz that can appear on any part of the plant. Advanced and severe cases may reveal necrotic lesions that lead to leaves falling off, death of the flowers, deformation and general underdevelopment.
- Rust – The fungus causing rust appears on the leaves as little tiny, discoloured dots. These are apparent on the upper and underside of the leaves. These tiny specs are protruding pustules that release a powdery, orange substance, giving it a rust-like appearance.
Plant Growth Care for Different Varieties
Three main types of Jatropha are very popular for people to grow at home. Jatropha Curcas, Jatropha multifida and Jatropha Integerrima are not only some of the most beautiful varieties, but they work excellent as grafting too.
Regardless of which species you plan to undertake for germination, planting seeds right into the ground will yield the best results. Seeds sewn directly will need at least two seeds per spot to ensure the tree grows properly. But you can start seedlings indoors too.
Some people succeed growing it in a pot, while others report utter failure experiences in a container. The failures seem mostly related to the plants not taking root or overwatering. Any variety of Jatropha will require soaking before planting. This is due to the seed’s hard outer shell. If it’s not soft enough, germination and production will be difficult.
Also known as the Physic Nut, Jatropha Curcas can reach a height between 16 to 22 feet (five to seven meters) once mature. Fluctuations in light, temperature and rainfall will induce the plant’s dormancy.
If you want to start seedlings indoors, you can use trays or raised beds. However, these will have to transplant into poly bags until growth is stable enough. You don’t want to transplant the tree until the seed develops a taproot and the plant itself appears solid and stable.
Soil Preparation & Germination
For this, mix some compost or manure with the soil. There shouldn’t be too much nutrition because an overabundance will cause salts to develop. This will be especially true when germinating in poly bags. Germination should begin after two to 10 days once you plant the seeds.
Within 20 to 30 days, you can transplant seedlings into poly bags. Allow these to harden for another month or two before putting them into the ground.
The Integerrima variety of Jatropha trees is a little less picky about its environment. However, the soil still has to be light, loamy and warm. As a result, it has a wonderfully shrubby, domed habit that looks great when pruned down to look like a tree.
Germination can be as short as six days to as long as 18. But, it will flower within the first year and be very drought-resistant once it establishes itself in the soil.
This ornamental Jatropha is great as a patio plant. The best time to start seeds is three months before the rainy season begins. Handling these are a little different than the Curcas variety. Use the following instructions to start Integerrima from seed:
- Soak the seeds in cold water for a period of 24 hours.
- Fill a container that’s a gallon or more with equal parts of sterile potting soil and compost. Also, include a few rocks, stones, gravel and large-particle sand. The pot should have a good drainage hole.
- Set this into a bath of warm water (either in the sink, tub or another shallow container) until the soil’s surface is moist to the touch.
- Remove the pot and let it drain thoroughly. Depending on your soil mixture and pot size, this will take at least an hour or as long as three hours.
- In the centre of the soil, push a hole with your finger that goes two to three inches deep. Put a seed in and cover lightly.
- Put the pot in a brightly lit, shaded, but warm place outside.
- Water enough, so the soil stays evenly moist to the depth you planted the seed. Don’t allow the soil to dry out for the first year.
- Once the seedling reaches 10 to 12 inches high, move the pot into one hour more of sunshine every day for two weeks.
- Then, find a spot outside where water will drain well with full to partial sun. Dig a hole about 12 inches deep and ensure you plant the seedling at the same depth as it had in the pot.
- When in its final resting place, ensure the soil stays moist for the first year. But, it can’t be too wet or get too dry; it will cause the plant to struggle and suffer.
- Place one pound of compost or manure around the tree’s base at least three times throughout the growing season. This will provide all the fertilization the tree requires.
TIP: Some gardeners report great success with grafting a Curcas onto an Integerrima.
Also called Guatemala Rhubarb, this Jatropha type is a showy ornamental with perfect coral flowers. It looks beautiful on patios and in gardens. Unfortunately, this variety isn’t as drought-resistant as Curcas or Integerrima. But, it definitely attracts multitudes of butterflies.
This type of Jatropha requires medium fertile soil with excellent affluence with a regular and consistent watering schedule while getting full sun exposure. If you want to try seed growth in a pot, be sure to reduce watering in wintertime.
The downside is that this particular Coral Plant experiences pests and disease a little more easily than others. Mealybugs, scale and aphids tend to plague this plant which diminishes the beauty and vigour of the flowers and leaves. Other than that, the same recommendations apply for germinating Multifida as for Integerrima.
A Jatropha plant can be a fun and exciting thing to grow. But, of course, there are a few things you have to do when starting seeds for a short period of time. But, once the plant establishes, it’s not only drought-resistant but also provides quality medicinal treatments.
It’s best to start the plant from seed, so a taproot develops. This will be what makes it strong even in the driest of conditions. But, cuttings will work as well. You have to graft it onto another living Jatropha for it to work. With so many medicinal and biodiesel possibilities with having a Coral Plant, you can’t go wrong in trying to grow one yourself.