Several shrubs, trees and perennials that have been in Lemmon family landscapes for the past 20-plus years have prompted my wife to ask me over and over, “What’s that plant again? I love how it looks!”
To be honest, I don’t remember all the names of products in her business, either. But I believe she’s asked me about the jatropha so many times because, when it blooms, it blooms for months – not just one month as azaleas and gardenias usually do.
In my wife's business, she teaches about “bouncebackability,” and that’s inspired this profile, because I can’t think of another plant that has so much of that.
Jatropha (Jatropha integerrima) is pronounced juh-trow-fuh, and it’s often called spicy jatropha.
Its “bounebackability” refers to its talent for always coming back from a hard winter and quickly blooming. For example, most freeze-affected hibiscus plants will also die back in the winter and return from their roots in the spring. But they seem to take months to start blooming again. Not the jatropha. It’s the one shrub you can count on for nearly year-round blooms, unless there's a freeze. My wife loves the one that’s behind our pool. It didn’t completely die back this year, but only about a foot of live wood remained at the end of January. By April 1, it was already three feet tall and starting to bloom.
I think it is a delightful smaller shrub for sunny spots, with an almost tropical look to the leaves. And it’s loaded with bright scarlet flower clusters that do a great job of attracting butterflies.
This is NOT a shrub well-suited for use as a manicured hedge.They’re better left in a more natural form.However, by frequently pinching back a limb here and there, they can be kept nicely rounded for what might be thought of as a formal landscape.
And over time, they can be trained up to form a sort of small tree. But I would only recommend that in more southern parts of our growing region because of potential freezes.
There are several jatropha variations, including one that blooms pink in sun or shade. Others have totally different foliage and smaller flowers. But this is the best of the bunch for an outstanding landscape shrub.
IMAGES: Closeup - Aggie Horticutlure; Shrub - Cornelius Nurseries