Jatropha is a genus of approximately 175 succulent plants, shrubs and trees (some are deciduous, like Jatropha curcas L.), from the family Euphorbiaceae. The name is derived from (Greek iatros = physician and trophe = nutrition), hence the common name physic nut. Jatropha is native to Central America and has become naturalized in many tropical and subtropical areas, including India, Africa, and North America. Originating in the Caribbean, Jatropha was spread as a valuable hedge plant to Africa and Asia by Portuguese traders. The mature small trees bear separate male and female flowers, and do not grow very tall. As with many members of the family Euphorbiaceae, Jatropha contains compounds that are highly toxic.

The hardy Jatropha is resistant to drought and pests, and produces seeds containing up to 40% oil. When the seeds are crushed and processed, the resulting oil can be used in a standard diesel engine, while the residue can also be processed into biomass to power electricity plants.

Goldman Sachs recently cited Jatropha curcas as one of the best candidates for future biodiesel production. However, despite its abundance and use as an oil and reclamation plant, none of the Jatropha species have been properly domesticated and, as a result, its productivity is variable, and the long-term impact of its large-scale use on soil quality and the environment is unknown.

Oil and biodiesel

Currently the oil from Jatropha curcas seeds is used for making biodiesel fuel in Philippines, promoted by a law authored by Philippine senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Miguel Zubiri. Likewise, jatropha oil is being promoted as an easily grown biofuel crop in hundreds of projects throughout India and other developing countries. The railway line between Mumbai and Delhi is planted with Jatropha and the train itself runs on 15-20% biodiesel. In Africa, cultivation of Jatropha is being promoted and it is grown successfully in countries such as Mali. In the Gran Chaco of Paraguay, where also a native variety (Jatropha matacensis) grows, studies have shown suitability of Jatropha cultivation and agro producers are starting to consider planting in the region.

Estimates of Jatropha seed yield vary widely, due to a lack of research data, the genetic diversity of the crop, the range of environments in which it is grown, and Jatropha's perennial life cycle. Seed yields under cultivation can range from 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms per hectare, corresponding to extractable oil yields of 540 to 680 litres per hectare (58 to 73 US gallons per acre).

Jatropha can also be intercropped with other cash crops such as coffee, sugar, fruits and vegetables.

Air New Zealand is planning a 747 jumbo jet flight from Auckland in the fall of 2008 with one of the four engines being powered by fuel refined from the seed of the fast-growing plant. The three-hour test flight could mark one of the more promising -- and more unusual -- steps by the financially strapped airline industry to find cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuel. The airline announced plans to use the new fuel for 10% of its needs by 2013. The jatropha oil is also significantly cheaper than crude oil. It could cost an estimated $43 a barrel, or about one-third of June 4, 2008 closing price of $122.30 for a barrel of crude oil.

Other uses

See in the article on Jatropha curcas.


Characteristic of many members of the family Euphorbiaceae, Jatropha plants contain several toxic compounds, including lectin, saponin, carcinogenic phorbol, and a trypsin inhibitor. Despite this, the seeds are occasionally eaten after roasting, which reduces some of the toxicity. Its sap is a skin irritant, and ingesting as few as three untreated seeds can be fatal to humans. In 2005 Western Australia banned Jatropha gossypifolia as invasive and highly toxic to people and animals. Ingesting even small amounts of Jatropha can induce vomiting, and common names for Jatropha curcas include purging nut, big purging nut, American purging nut, and black vomit nut.


Species of Jatropha include:

  • Jatropha cuneata limberbush, whose stems are used for basketmaking by the Seri people in Sonora, Mexico, who call it haat [ʔaat]. The stems are roasted, split and soaked through an elaborate process. The reddish color dye that is often used is made from the root of another plant species, Krameria grayi.
  • Jatropha curcas, also known as physic nut, piñoncillo and Habb-El-Melúk, is used to produce the non-edible Jatropha oil, for making candles and soap, and as a feedstock for producing biodiesel. Prior to pressing, the seed can be shelled with the Universal Nut Sheller which reduces the arduous task of removing the seeds from the shell by hand. Once the seeds have been pressed, the remaining cake can be used as feed in digesters and gasifiers to produce biogas for cooking and in engines, or be used for fertilizing, and sometimes even as animal fodder. The whole seed (with oil) can also be used in digesters to produce biogas. Large plantings and nurseries have been undertaken in India by many research institutions, and by women's self-help groups who use a system of microcredit to ease poverty among semi-literate Indian women.
  • Jatropha gossypifolia, also called bellyache bush: its fruits and foliage are toxic to humans and animals. It is a major weed in Australia.
  • Jatropha integerrima Jacq., or spicy jatropha: ornamental in the tropics, continuously crimson, flowers almost all year.
  • Jatropha multifida L., or coral plant: bright red flowers, like red coral, charactertised by strongly incised leaves.
  • Jatropha podagrica or buddha belly plant or bottleplant shrub was used to tan leather and produce a red dye in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. It is also used as a house plant.


This genus is also known as:

See also


External links

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