Tried and true – Jatropha
By Ralph E. Mitchell
While there are many “tried and true” flowering shrubs for our area, there is one that stands out as an almost “foolproof” selection. The shrub/small tree known as Jatropha integerrima, or just plain Jatropha for short, is a plant selection that will not disappoint you. You still need to follow the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Principle #1. which is “Right Plant. Right Place”, but this beautiful flowering shrub is readily available and puts on a nice show!
There are a number of plants in the genus Jatropha that can be found growing in our landscapes, but the Jatropha, aka: peregrina, spicy jatropha, or fire-cracker, is a gardener’s favorite. Native to Cuba, Jatropha is a large shrub or small tree upwards to fifteen feet tall. It is not a shade tree by any regards, but it can be pruned and trained to one central trunk to assume a tree-like appearance. Otherwise, it will develop multiple trunks and form a nice rounded shrub of equal height and width. It is an broadleaf evergreen which has an interesting assortment of different-shaped six-inch long leaves – oval, fiddle-shaped and lobed – all on one plant. The one-inch wide scarlet-red flowers can technically appear year round and are favored by hummingbirds and butterflies including monarchs, swallowtails, and zebra longwings. Flowers can be followed by seed capsules filled with seeds. Jatropha is a toxic plant, so keep this in mind regarding its proximity to children and pets – the speckled seeds are especially attractive.
Plant Jatropha in a full-sun site with well-drained soil. It is considered to be drought tolerant once established. Most gardeners use the Jatropha as a specimen plant, but they can also be made into a privacy screen or hedge when planted three-feet apart and pruned to keep its growth in-bounds. March is a good month for pruning as needed. Using a large planter, Jatropha can be containerized making it an attractive asset for a deck or patio.
Now can the Jatropha get any better? Yes it can! A variegated cultivar adds a new dimension with white and creamy splashes of variegation which really make the red flowers pop. If space is a concern, there is even a compact cultivar called ‘Compacta’. And, if you want another flower color, try the pink-flowering cultivar which is less common and may take some hunting to locate locally, or on-line.
Propagation is as easy as taking a tip cutting. I obtained my specimen from a tip cutting which rooted relatively quickly in sterile potting medium. The Jatropha is a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant, and can be depended on as sustainable and rewarding choice within your landscape plant palette. For more information on all types of flowering ornamentals, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t forget that Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is a program that our office encourages as it promotes planting the “right plant in the right place”, water conservation, common sense pest management, sensible use of fertilizers, composting, etc. that help develop a sustainable landscape. For more information on this important, over-arching program, please contact Sara Weber, FFL Education-Training Specialist, at Sara.Weber@charlottecountyfl.gov .
Gilman, E. F., Watson, D. G., Klein, R. W., Koeser, A. K., Hilbert, D. R. & McLean, D. C. (2018) Jatropha integerrima: Peregrina. The University of Florida, IFAS.
Gardening Solutions – UF/IFAS (2020) Jatropha.
Landre, C. (2020) Jatropha. South-Florida-Plant-Guide.
Jatropha integerrima. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatropha_integerrima
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.