The Purging Nut (Jatropha curcas) is a member of the Spurge family. It is a succulent shrub that grows up to 8 meters tall.
Its lobed, five-petal leaves are about 15 cm long, slightly yellowish in color and hairy.
The round capsule fruits turn black when ripe and release small conical seeds.
The name Jatropha is derived from Greek (trophe = nutrition, iatros = physician) and refers to the use (long ago) of its seeds for medicinal purposes.
Jatropha species are evergreen or deciduous shrubs or trees.
They prefer dry climates and can, therefore, be cultivated in barren soils, primarily in tropical and subtropical regions (Asia, Americas and Africa).
The purging nut is inedible because its milky sap is poisonous and has a strong laxative effect.
Its former use as a medicine has lost significance in modern times. Today the plant is most often used as a protective hedge for the reforestation of barren landscapes, as well as protection against erosion and desertification.
This plant is unique in its resistance to extreme drought and parasites. It can survive up to three years of drought, which has made their agricultural cultivation possible on land previously unsuitable for development.
Problems with cultivation and use
The Jatropha is still a wild plant with yields that are subject to strong fluctuations depending on the duration of the rainy season.
The risk of diseases primarily caused by fungi, insects and other pests all but excludes the extensive use of monocultures.
Weeds on a Jatropha plantation are reduced using ground covers.
Legumes are used for soil improvement and nitrogen enrichment and mulch from cut materials help to reduce water loss and improve biocoenotic variance.
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Jatropha has long been considered the 'plant of hope for developing countries', especially with regard to growing energy demands (biodiesel).
This is due to their hardiness – they can grow in desert soil and thus do not displace food crops. In addition, they hardly need to be fertilized or protected from pests.
Recent studies show, however, that even more cultivation is necessary if Jatropha is to produce economically profitable yields in arid environments.
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