Today’s entry was written by Botany Photo of the Day work-study student, Bryant DeRoy. He writes:
Thank you to Anne Elliott (annkelliott@Flickr) for today’s image of Jatropha gossypiifolia, contributed via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. Jatropha gossypiifolia (commonly known as belly-ache bush) is a member of the Euphorbiaceae. It is native to New World tropical and subtropical regions from Mexico south to Paraguay, as well as many of the islands in the Caribbean. It is a large shrub or smaller short-lived tree, usually reaching heights of around 3.5 to 4.5 metres (8-15 ft.). The leaves are glossy with 3-5 lobes, and range from dark green to brick-red in colour. The margins, veins and petioles are sparsely covered in large glandular hairs. Jatropha gossypiifolia is commonly cultivated as an ornamental in tropical or warm arid environments, but its popularity as an ornamental has allowed it to naturalize in many regions outside its native distribution. It is now considered a noxious weed in some of these regions, including parts of Africa and Australia. For a highly detailed account of this species as well as additional images, see the Prota Database’s website: Jatropha gossypiifolia.
Belly-ache bush’s common name comes from its toxicity to humans (and other animals) when ingested. The major components responsible are the phytotoxin curcin and purgative oils (aka hell oils), both of which are found concentrated in the seeds. Despite its toxicity, some of the chemicals found in Jatropha gossypiifolia have been found to have medicinal qualities. This species has been used in traditional medicine throughout its native and introduced habitat for the treatment of ailments ranging from fever to cancer. For a highly detailed summary of this species chemical make-up and history of usage, visit the site of the International Programme on Chemical Safety: Jatropha gossypiifolia.