Jatropha a no-fuss, low-water plant
By Heidi Bornhorst
There is a small tree you sometimes see growing in old kama'aina gardens. It has small leaves, and pretty bright, pink-red-magenta flowers and seems to always be in bloom. Best of all, it seems to need minimal care, at least I never see anybody pouring lots of fertilizer and TLC on it.
Jatropha is a very cute and demure small tree or large bush with bright magenta flowers that are about an inch across. It is a tough and less-thirsty plant, ideal for the xeriscape (drought-tolerant) gardening) and an akamai choice for anyone who wants a no fuss, minimally demanding garden plant.
Jatropha matches with all kinds of garden styles. It is nice in a Japanese rock garden, growing next to a koi pond, or accenting boulders and evergreen plants. The colors go well with azaleas. It looks great in a colorful lei maker's garden with reds, oranges and yellows such as 'ilima, ohai ali'i, and bougainvillea to adorn the garden.
It is great in a traditional xeriscape garden with cacti and succulents, such as the crown of thorns, adenium or desert rose, other more odd species of jatropha, and low-growing succulent groundcovers.
Jatropha, with attractive yet tough ways, will always get invited to the party. It doesn't overwhelm the landscape yet that spark of burgundy color sure brightens up the picture. It might have potential as a lei flower, though the flowers might be hard to stick a needle through. The color is certainly attractive!
In the landscape, you can train it as a small specimen tree, use it as an informal hedge or border plant, or to screen a view you don't like, or to shield you from the nosy paparazzi. It is nice potted plant on a sunny apartment lanai or courtyard.
The usual common name is the rose-flowered jatropha, but it is also known as peregrina, and the scientific name is Jatropha integerrima. It is in the Euphorbiaceae family.
There are other species of jatropha growing in Hawai'i and they make unusual additions to the garden. This family has many useful members, and some of them are poisonous or have a milky sap. Those flowers look good enough to eat, but you don't want small children to put them in their mouths. Jatropha is native to Cuba and the West Indies.
Landscape architect and director emeritus of the Honolulu botanical gardens Paul R. Weissich and retired UH Manoa horticulture professor Fred Rauch, in their book "Plants for Tropical Landscapes," classify it as a small tree, capable of growing up to 20 feet tall.