Plant of the Month – October, 2007
At a glance
Latin Name: Jatropha integerrima ‘Compacta’
Common Name: Peregrina, Spicy Jatropha
Family: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family)
Origin: West Indies, Cuba
Plant Type: Tropical annual shrub
Flowers: 1 inch across and borne in multi-flowered terminal clusters
Foliage: Bright green simple leaves with 3 lobes
Mature height: 4-6 feet
Hardiness: Zones 10-11
Exposure: full sun to afternoon shade
Water usage: medium – drought tolerant
Sources: mail order
Ever since I decided to become a horticulturist, I have been absolutely in love with tropical plants. My father’s family is from Hawaii, and I have many fond memories of sitting in front of my grandmother’s house stringing together plumeria flowers to make leis for her.
Tropical plants have big foliage, bright colors, funky flowers and excellent textures — all things that I love! How can you resist them?
Lucky for me, the hot summer climate in Dallas makes it possible and desirable for me — and any gardener — to grow beautiful tropical plants.
One of my favorite groups of tropicals is the Jatropha genus. The first time I was introduced to them, it was through Jatropha gossipyfolia or belly-ache bush; next, I discovered J. multifida or coral plant. I fell in love immediately with their leaves, ranging from palmate to lobed, from deep purple to bright green and the brightest colored flower panicles. They were the most unique plants I had seen in a long time, and, boy, do they grow fast! This nearly instant gratification makes dealing with tropical annuals all the more pleasurable.
J. integerrima ‘Compacta,’ or spicy jatropha, is a tropical annual shrub in Texas, growing quickly to 4 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide. If you are able to over-winter this plant in a garage or small greenhouse, or even your house, you can grow it into a small tree, especially if pruned correctly. The new foliage is a deep purple and then turns bright, glossy green. Some leaves are tri-lobed. Spicy jatropha’s flowers are the color of Hawaiian fruit punch — a very saturated pinkish-red — and 1 inch across.
Don’t plant jatropha until mid-May or after. Once it gets established, sit back and watch it take off! It is actually tolerant of numerous soil types, but spicy jatropha likes its feet to be moist, but not wet, and can sometimes tolerate poor soils. It takes pruning well, and blooms on the current years’ growth, which means it makes for an excellent hedge row or backdrop plant in an annual bed.
Plant this lovely annual in full sun or part shade. For those of you who are butterfly and hummingbird fanatics, this would be an excellent addition to your repertoire. Those bright-red flowers attract hummingbirds from a mile away.
Jatropha integerrima ‘Compacta’ may be a little hard to find, but lately I’ve seen it for sale in many nurseries as a 3-gallon plant. If you can’t find it locally, do a search by botanical name on Google.
About the author: Denise Robb is the Research and Greenhouse Manager at the Dallas Arboretum, visit www.dallasplanttrials.org for more information on the trial program.