UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail: indianco@ufl.edu 

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March 22, 2006

Feature Article - for release the week of March 26, 2006

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Plant Jatropha for Dependable Color

“What’s killing my plant?” he asked.  “Actually there is hardly anything that can bother your plant”, I responded, and gave him a few pointers on the finer art of soaping up mealybugs.  Last week’s office visitor and a recent plant profile from Yard Doc Carol Bailey helped to suggest that I put together a summary about a great plant for local Florida Yards, Jatropha.

Jatropha is an evergreen shrub that has lots of butterfly-attracting red flowers, yet it requires little care once established in the landscape.  However, this poinsettia-relative does have the potential for a bit of trouble if a child or pet were to eat the foliage or seed pods that it produces.

Peregrina, Spanish for a female pilgrim, is sometimes given as a common name for this plant, while Fire-Cracker, Star of Bethlehem and Spicy Jatropha are also used to refer to this attractive ornamental. 

 Most of the nurseries where I have seen it in stock call this plant Jatropha [ja-TROE-fuh] when they are referring to Jatropha integerrima.  Retired UF Horticultural taxonomist Dr. Bejan Dehgan notes that there is a variety “hastata” and a cultivar “Compacta”, which will be smaller is size.

Another related ornamental plant is known as Coral Plant (Jatropha multifida) that has deeply divided leaves that look a bit like the infamous Cannabis plant, but the Jatropha has red flowers.  There are over a hundred other Jatropha species.

Jatropha A peregrina makes an nice accent plant in the landscape. Photo: David Lee, FIU   The foliage of Jatropha integerrima may be un lobed, mitten-like, or with two lobes.  Photo B. Dehgan,UF/IFAS  The closely related Coral Plant has deeply dissected leaves, but the flowers and fruit look much like that of the Spicy Jatropha plant. Photo: P. Schoenfelder

How ever it is called, this Cuban native can grow to about 10 feet tall and can be equally wide, but it is likely to be smaller around here when frost nips it back.  It retains its dark-green foliage all year. The fiddle-shaped leaves are vaguely reminiscent of the colorful bracts of the poinsettia plant because they sometimes show small lobes or points on the leaf margins.

The flower clusters of this Jatropha are a brilliant scarlet red, or sometimes pink in color.  Each individual flower has star-shaped (5 pointed) petals with small yellow flower parts. But there’s something unusual about this plant – the male and female flowers grow in separate bloom clusters, either at different times or on different parts of the same plant.  It is strongly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies, especially to monarchs, swallowtails and zebras.

Jatropha produce many flower clusters on the end of each stem. Photo courtesy Carol Bailey.  Image of Jatropha integerrima (Euphorbiaceae) flowers at Sarasota, Florida.  Photo# starr-031108-0143 Some Jatropha have pink flowers. Photo: Forest & Kim Starr (USGS)
A Male flower - note the yellow pollen on the stamens. Photo B. Dehgan, UF/IFAS The female flower can produce seed pods Photo: B. Dehgan,UF/IFAS

Female flowers that are visited by bees or caterpillars produce a seed capsule that is filled with three smooth speckled seed.  While all parts of this plant contain toxic substances, the rounded seed contain more of these poisons.  I’d suggest that the small developing seed pods be trimmed off before they mature to reduce the chances that somebody or something would eat them.  Please don’t plant it if there is a chance that it would be eaten by unsuspecting garden visitors.


Seed pod produce three seeds.  They are very toxic if eaten.  Photo: David Lee, FIU  

This medium fast-growing plant grows and blooms best in hot, sunny, dry locations.  The soil must be well drained.   It is a very drought tolerant plant once established, and will not require watering in your Florida Yard.  It tends to thin if over-watered, and does not have any tolerance for salts.

According to “Yard Doc Carol”, Jatropha should be used where the constant bloom can be enjoyed up-close.  It is superb as a patio or container tree, and does well in buffer strips and in small scale urban landscapes where larger trees would overwhelm the planting. The natural shape is often open, so prune while young to encourage strong branches and a good structure for wind resistance.  

The Peregrina plant is not a plant for formal hedges, does not like to be sheared.   Use it as an accent plant.  Use of a balanced slow-release fertilizer two to four times per year may improve the plant’s appearance, and don’t forget to mulch underneath to reduce weeds.  There are few insect pests that cool bother Jatropha, and the few mealybugs that our office visitor had on his plant would not slow it down in a Florida Yard.

I’ve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on Jatropha, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.   Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners on Tuesday afternoons. 


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida, Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Interim Dean Last update: 09/06/2011 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert 


Arnold, Michael.  Jumping Jatropha, A Spicy Plant For Hot Spots! San Antonio: Texas Agri-Life Extension Service - Plant Answers webpage,   6/1/07.  http://www.plantanswers.com/jumping_jatropha.htm 

Beckford, Roy.  "Jatropha tree could be a biodiesel boon for Florida farmers, UF researcher says".  In Inside IFAS magazine.   Gainesville: UF/IFAS External and Media Relations, 8.29.2007. http://emr.ifas.ufl.edu/inside_ifas/8_2007/8_2007_19.html 

Gilman, Edward F. and Watson, Dennis G.  Jatropha integerrima: Peregrina (ENH- 478).  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 10/03. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ST319

Pemberton, Brent.  Firecracker Jatropha [Texas Superstar® Plant Program.]  College Station: Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 2009.  http://texassuperstar.com/plants/jatropha/index.html

Vandaveer, C.   Peregrina (Jatropha integerrima). Largo, FL: Killerplants.com website,10/8/2001   http://www.killerplants.com/plant-of-the-week/20011008.asp

Van Treese, Jeff et.al.  Jatropha curcas, Cultivation and Use as a Biodiesel Feedstock.  Gainesville: UF/ IFAS Soil Science Department, October 2010.   http://soils.ifas.ufl.edu/academics/pdf/Van_Treese,%20Jeff.pdf