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On Gardening: Spicy Jatropha prized for its non-stop blooming until winter

May 18, 2015

A pink jatropha serves as the thriller plant in this colorful mixed container with lantana, scaevola, verbena and celosia.

Spicy Jatropha Offers Blooms Birds and Butterflies

Blooms, birds, and butterflies are the attributes everyone experiences when growing the award-winning spicy jatropha. Spicy jatropha also commonly known as peregrina and firecracker jatropha is really a must have plant for the long hot season ahead. No amount of heat will deter it from producing non-stop blooms all summer until freezing weather arrives.

The spicy japtropha is known botanically as Jatropha integerrima and is native to the West Indies. Even though it is a tropical it has been showing up at garden centers much like tropical hibiscus or mandevilla. It is such a great plant it was declared a Texas Superstar Winner even though it is only cold hardy in zones 9 -11. They will over winter in South Texas, but everyone else will either protect them or grow them as an annual like most of the country.

To me the foliage has always been an additional selling point. The leaves for the most-part are deep glossy green and fiddle-shaped. You can get a variance in leaf shapes, but regardless they serve as the perfect backdrop to the red or pink flowers depending on your choice in variety.

In the tropics it is not uncommon to see them as small trees reaching 10 to 12 feet but for most of us we will enjoy them in the 3 to 5 foot range. They are not finicky about soil pH but do need very well drained conditions. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah ours gave us a spring return from the ground after a low of 22. We have also elected to grow some as thriller plants in mixed containers.

Whether you grow them in the landscape or in containers on the porch, patio, or poolside you will notice that all summer that butterflies and hummingbirds make regular visits. The flowers are about 1-inch across and are borne in clusters that amazingly are always around. Should yours get fruit, know that these are poisonous if ingested. In all of the years Iíve grown them I have never seen fruit formed.

They are tough-as-nails and slow to wilt and make a quick recovery once water is applied. Iíve never seen any diseases or insect pressures which is pretty shocking since they perform for such a long season. In the landscape you will want to feed with light monthly applications of a slow-released balanced fertilizer containing micro-nutrients. Feed those in containers with a balanced controlled-released granular fertilizer as per formula recommendation or every other week with a dilute water-soluble 20-20-20.

Though jatrophas are still fairly new to garden centers in zones north of the tropics, the prices generally make them one of the best buys for your garden dollar since they bloom non-stop for 5 to 7 months depending where you live.

In the landscape I love them with bananas, philodendrons and elephant ears, where their coarse textured foliage combines with the red flowers for a real taste of the tropics. In our mixed containers we are using them with rich pastel yellow lantanas, blue verbenas, white scaevolas and carmine colored celosia. As they have grown together the look is simply dazzling with the color.

Unless you live in our warmest regions you most likely will be purchasing your jatropha generically, which is absolutely fine. On the other hand, you might be fortunate and find Ingramís Red and Petite Pink. Regardless, if you see the spicy jatropha for sale you will know you are getting an outstanding plant.

 

 


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