Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), pronounced "hō-hō'-bə", is a shrub native to the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of Arizona, California, and Mexico. It is the sole species of the family Simmondsiaceae, and sometimes placed in the box family, Buxaceae. It is also known as goat nut, deer nut, pignut, wild hazel, quinine nut, coffeeberry, and gray box bush.
Jojoba grows to 1–2 m tall, with a broad, dense crown. The leaves are opposite, oval in shape, 2–4 cm long and 1.5-3 cm broad, thick waxy glaucous gray-green in color. The flowers are small, greenish-yellow, with 5–6 sepals and no petals. Each plant is single-sex, either male or female, with hermaphrodites being extremely rare. The fruit is an acorn-shaped ovoid, three-angled capsule 1–2 cm long, partly enclosed at the base by the sepals. The mature seed is a hard oval, dark brown in color and contains an oil (liquid wax) content of approximately 54%. An average-size bush produces a kilogram of pollen, to which few humans are allergic.
Jojoba foliage provides year-round food opportunity for many animals, including deer, javelina, bighorn sheep, and livestock. The nuts are eaten by squirrels, rabbits, other rodents, and larger birds. Only Bailey's Pocket Mouse, however, is known to be able to digest the wax found inside the jojoba nut. In large quantities, the seed meal is toxic to many mammals, and the indigestible wax acts as a laxative in humans. The Seri, who utilize nearly every edible plant in their territory, don't regard the beans as real food and in the past ate it only in emergencies.
Despite its scientific name Simmondsia chinensis, Jojoba does not originate in China; the botanist Johann Link, originally named the species Buxus chinensis, after misreading Nuttall's collection label "Calif" as "China". Jojoba was briefly renamed Simmondsia californica, but priority rules require that the original specific epithet be used. The common name should also not be confused with the similar-sounding Jujube (Ziziphus zizyphus), an unrelated plant.
Jojoba is grown for the liquid wax (commonly called jojoba oil) in its seeds. This oil is rare in that it is an extremely long (C36-C46) straight-chain wax ester and not a triglyceride, making jojoba and its derivative jojoba esters more similar to sebum and whale oil than to traditional vegetable oils. Jojoba oil is easily refined to be odorless, colorless and oxidatively stable, and is often used in cosmetics as a moisturizer and as a carrier oil for specialty fragrances. It also has potential use as both a biodiesel fuel for cars and trucks, as well as a biodegradable lubricant. Because sperm whales are endangered, plantations of jojoba have been established in a number of desert and semi-desert areas, predominantly in Argentina, Israel, Mexico, Palestinian Authority, Peru, and the USA. It is currently the Sonoran Desert's second most economically valuable native plant (overshadowed only by the Washington palms used in horticulture). Selective breeding is developing plants that produce more beans with higher wax content, as well as other characteristics that will facilitate harvesting.