Jatropha gossypiifolia (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Jatropha gossypiifolia L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 1006 (1753).
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 22

Vernacular names

  • Cotton-leaved physic nut, bellyache bush, wild cassada, red fig-nut flower (En).
  • Pourghère rouge, médecinier sauvage, médecinier rouge (Fr).
  • Chagas velhas, pinhao roxo, pião vermelho (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Jatropha gossypiifolia is native to tropical America from Mexico to Paraguay and the Caribbean region. It has been introduced as an ornamental and medicinal plant elsewhere in tropical America and in many parts of the Old World tropics, and regularly escapes from cultivation. Jatropha gossypiifolia occurs throughout tropical Africa, except the dry regions in southern Africa, but including South Africa.


Throughout tropical Africa, different parts of Jatropha gossypiifolia are used for a range of medicinal purposes, in a similar way as Jatropha curcas L. The oil-rich seeds and seed oil are used as a drastic purgative and emetic and to expel internal parasites. The leaves and bark have the same purgative effect. The oil is applied internally as abortifacient, and externally as rubefacient to treat rheumatic conditions and a variety of skin infections, although its use on the skin may also cause an irritative rash. In Senegal the seed oil is also applied against leprosy and rabies. The sap has a widespread reputation for healing wounds, as a haemostatic and for curing skin problems; it is applied externally to treat infected wounds, ulcers, cuts, abrasions, ringworm, eczema, dermatomycosis, scabies and venereal diseases. The sap has a styptic effect and is used against pains and bee and wasp stings. Dried and pulverized root bark is made into poultices and is taken internally to expel worms and to treat oedema.

In Senegal a decoction of the leaves is taken to treat colic, stomach-ache and fever, including malaria. In Ghana the leaves are used as a purgative, and the leaf sap is applied to the tongue of babies to treat thrush and to inflamed tongues of adults. The pith of old stems is inserted into the nostril to cause sneezing to cure headache. In the Caribbean the plant sap is traditionally used in the treatment of cancer. In the West Indies an infusion of the stem is taken to treat hypertension.

In West Africa Jatropha gossypiifolia is planted around villages as a hedge plant for its striking dark red young foliage and also to protect the houses against fire. It is also planted near houses to keep snakes away. It is locally planted for field boundary marking. It is sometimes grown as a container plant. The seed oil is used as lamp oil and fuel.

Production and international trade

Although Jatropha gossypiifolia is widely planted as an ornamental and hedge plant, and has become locally naturalized, there are no data available on trade in Africa or elsewhere.


The seed contains per 100 g: protein 13 g, crude oil 36 g, carbohydrate 30 g and fibre 9 g. The fatty acid composition of the oil is: unsaturated fatty acids 74% of which palmitic acid up to 31% and oleic acid and linoleic acid 68–84%, and further traces of caprylic acid, myristic acid, stearic acid, arachidic acid, behenic acid, lignoceric acid, palmitoleic acid and vernolic acid. The energy value of the seed oil is 42,000 kJ/kg.

An alcoholic root extract of Jatropha gossypiifolia showed significant inhibitory activity in different human cancer cell lines. This finding led to the isolation of the macrocyclic diterpenes jatrophone and related jatrophanes. Evaluation of this activity in the P-388 lymphocytic leukaemia test in vitro and in vivo and in Eagle’s carcinoma of the nasopharynx in vitro revealed that most of these components were very active. In addition, it was found that jatrophone had direct inhibitory effects on contractions of cardiac and smooth muscle preparations, which were typically non-competitive in nature. The action of jatrophone may involve more than one mechanism; this might be related to alterations in the Ca2+ handling by cells. Later, the diterpenoids jatropholones A and B were isolated from the roots. They have shown only little biological activity. An ethanol extract from the stems caused a significant and dose-dependent reduction of the systolic blood pressure when given orally to rats. An aqueous extract of the stems increased the amplitude between the systolic tone and the diastolic tone of the arterial pressure in guinea pig. In rabbit, the extract markedly reduced the level of arterial pressure. A leaf extract showed significant activity as an anticoagulant for haematological analyses. The anticoagulant effect of the extract was found to be comparable to that of dipotassium ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid. The leaf extract must be purified to remove interfering substances to make it suitable for biochemical analyses. On the contrary, the sap from the stem showed significant coagulant activity in vitro.

A methanolic seed extract was found to be active against the snail Bulinus globosus, but was considered of little value, because of the large quantity required for lethal concentrations and the rapid inactivation under field conditions. The stem sap, however, was strongly active against the snail Lymnaea acuminata in its aquatic environment. The toxicity of the sap is partly due to inhibitory effects on acetylcholinesterase, and on acid and alkaline phosphatases in the snail. The cyclic peptides cyclogossine A, B and C were isolated from the stem sap. Methanol and n-butanol extracts of unripe seeds showed significant molluscicidal activity against the snails Lymnaea luteola and Indoplanorbis exustus, the n-butanol extract being more toxic to the egg and adult stages of both snails. Furthermore, jatrophone and jatropholone A and B from the roots were tested against the snail Biomphalaria glabrata. Only jatrophone showed significant molluscicidal activity. Crude hot water extracts from the aerial parts were examined for antimalarial properties against Plasmodium falciparum in vitro, and were found to be capable of 100% growth inhibition. Hexane extracts of the fresh fruits showed significant activity against fungi and some bacteria. Stem sap was found to inhibit the growth of Helminthosporium oryzae and Alternaria brassicicola. The ethanolic stem extract showed significant larvicidal activity against larvae of the tick Boophilus microplus.

In addition to the compounds mentioned above, phytochemical investigations revealed the presence of lignans (e.g. gadain, jatrodien, gossypifan, gossypidien and prasanthaline) in the light petroleum extract of stem, root and seeds, the alkaloid jatrophine in the sap, and flavonoids (apigenin, vitexin and isovitexin) and triterpenes in the ethanolic leaf extract.


  • Much-branched, deciduous, somewhat succulent, monoecious shrub up to 3 m tall; rhizome thick, with orange-pink to brownish sap; bark smooth, green, peeling off in thin grey layers; stem and young leaves dark purple, glabrous.
  • Leaves alternate; stipules c. 5 mm long, divided into many segments, gland-tipped; petiole 8–12 cm long, with simple to 3-fid glandular hairs; blade broadly ovate in outline, 6–10 cm × 8–14 cm, shallowly to deeply 3(–5)-lobed, base shallowly cordate, lobes obovate to oblanceolate, middle lobe longest, apex acute, margins glandular and minutely toothed, otherwise glabrous.
  • Inflorescence a sparingly flowered leaf-opposed cyme, with a solitary female flower terminating each major axis and male flowers in lateral cymules; peduncle up to 6 cm long, shortly hairy; bracts linear-lanceolate, c. 1.5 cm long, acuminate, margin with glandular hairs.
  • Flowers unisexual, regular, 5-merous, dark red; male flowers with elliptical-lanceolate calyx lobes c. 3 mm long, glandular at margins, petals fused in lower half, lobes obovate, c. 4 mm long, disk composed of 5 free glands, stamens 8, in 2 distinct whorls, the 5 outer fused to halfway, the inner 3 almost completely fused; female flowers with calyx lobes and petals twice as large as in male flowers, disk shallowly 5-lobed, ovary superior, globose to shallowly 3-lobed, 6-ribbed, 3-celled, styles 3, c. 2 mm long, fused at base, stigma 2-lobed.
  • Fruit a somewhat fleshy to dry, globose to 3-lobed capsule, c. 1 cm in diameter, sparingly hairy to glabrous, green becoming brownish, dehiscent into 2-valved cocci, usually 3-seeded.
  • Seeds ellipsoid, c. 7.5 mm × 4.5 mm, glabrous, pale grey-brown, caruncle with many lobes, dark brown.
  • Seedling with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Jatropha comprises about 170 species, mainly in warm temperate regions and seasonally dry tropics. Africa counts 70 native species and Madagascar has 1 endemic. In East Africa and Asia all Jatropha gossypiifolia plants are referred to as var. elegans (Pohl) Müll.Arg., which differs from var. gossypiifolia in having minutely toothed and glandular-hairy leaf margins. Several other Jatropha species known for their ornamental value are locally used as a purgative, e.g. Jatropha multifida L. and Jatropha podagrica Hook.

Growth and development

Jatropha gossypiifolia starts flowering and fruiting at the start of the rainy season, and can continue throughout the year if soil moisture remains high. Flowering can start in plants 4–6 weeks old, but generally starts 2 years after sowing. High densities of Jatropha gossypiifolia plants reduce flowering and fruiting. The plant can produce seed by selfing or cross-pollination, and many insects, including bees, visit the flowers to collect the nectar.


Where Jatropha gossypiifolia is naturalized, it occurs in regions with a pronounced dry season, along roads, on waste places, in grassland and shrub vegetation, generally at low altitudes in coastal areas. Annual rainfall requirements are 400–1200 mm. It grows on well-drained sand, sandy loams and stony soils.

Propagation and planting

Jatropha gossypiifolia can be propagated by seed and rhizome or stem cuttings. Stem cuttings are most vigorous and root best using IBA, although rooting also occurs without this hormone. The fruits float, facilitating long-distance dispersal of seeds along watercourses and onto floodplains.


Jatropha gossypiifolia can become weedy, as it is an opportunistic invader of disturbed sites, e.g. in sugar cane fields in Mauritius. In northern Australia it has become a noxious weed, especially of rangeland in seasonally inundated flood plains, where competition with other plant species is limited. It can be controlled effectively by herbicides, mechanical means and by burning. In Central America biological control is effected through Jatropha mosaic virus (transferred by white fly) and recently in northern Australia through the seed-sucking bug Agonosoma trilineatum. In a heavily infested soil, up to 3.8 million seeds/ha are present at 1–5 cm soil depth, and weeding has to be continued for several years.

Diseases and pests

Jatropha gossypiifolia is generally not attacked by diseases or pests in tropical Africa.


The seed yield is 500 kg per ha annually, with seed shell to kernel ratio of 35:65.

Genetic resources

As Jatropha gossypiifolia is widely planted as an ornamental and medicinal plant, and locally commonly naturalized, it is not endangered by genetic erosion.


Jatropha gossypiifolia is an interesting medicinal plant with many medicinal uses. Especially its anticancer and molluscicidal activities have been investigated, with promising results, but more research is warranted to confirm the activities of the individual compounds. In addition, the antiplasmodial activity, blood pressure lowering activity and coagulant or anticoagulant properties of different plant parts need to be studied in more detail.

Major references

  • Abbiw, D.K., 1990. Useful plants of Ghana: West African uses of wild and cultivated plants. Intermediate Technology Publications, London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 337 pp.
  • Abreu, I.C., Marinho, A.S., Paes, A.M., Freire, S.M., Olea, R.S., Borges, M.O. & Borges, A.C., 2003. Hypotensive and vasorelaxant effects of ethanolic extract from Jatropha gossypiifolia L. in rats. Fitoterapia 74(7–8): 650–657.
  • Betancur-Galvis, L., Checa, J., Marco, J.A. & Estornell, E., 2003. Jatrophane diterpenes from the latex of Euphorbia obtusifolia with inhibitory activity on the mammalian mitrochondrial respiratory chain. Planta Medica 69: 177–178.
  • Csurhes, S.M., 1999. Bellyache bush (Jatropha gossypiifolia) in Queensland. Pest Status Review Series - Land Protection, Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. 38 pp.
  • Oduola, T., Avwioro, O.G. & Ayanniyi, T.B., 2005. Suitability of the leaf extract of Jatropha gossypifolia as an anticoagulant for biochemical and haematological analyses. African Journal of Biotechnology 4(7): 679–681.
  • Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1996. Euphorbiaceae, subfamilies Phyllantoideae, Oldfieldioideae, Acalyphoideae, Crotonoideae and Euphorbioideae, tribe Hippomaneae. In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 1–337.
  • Sukumaran, D., Parashar, B.D. & Rao, K.M., 1995. Toxicity of Jatropha gossypiifolia and Vaccaria pyramidata against freshwater snails vectors of animal schistosomiasis. Fitoterapia 66(5): 393–398.
  • Traoré, A, Datte, Y.J., Offoumou, A.M., Aka, K.J. & Sawadogo, L.L., 1999. Anti-hypertensive effects of an aqueous extract from Jatropha gossypiifolia (Euphorbiaceae) on the arterial pression of mammals. Revue de Médecines et Pharmacopées Africaines 13: 41–48.

Other references

  • Arbonnier, M., 2002. Arbres, arbustes et lianes des zones sèches d’Afrique de l’Ouest. CIRAD, MNHN, UICN. 573 pp.
  • Bebawi, F.F. & Campbell, S.D., 2002. The response of bellyache bush (Jatropha gossypiifolia) plants cut off at different heights and seasonal times. Tropical Grasslands 36(2): 65–68.
  • Berhaut, J., 1975. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 3. Connaracées à Euphorbiacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 634 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
  • Gbeassor, M., Kossou, Y., Amegbo, K., de Souza, C., Koumaglo, K. & Denke, A., 1989. Antimalarial effects of eight African medicinal plants. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 25(1): 115–118.
  • Kumar, R.V. & Swarnkar, G.K., 2003. Rooting response in stem cuttings of Jatropha gossypiifolia. Indian Journal of Agroforestry 5(1/2): 131–133.
  • Kupchan, S.M., Sigel, C.W., Matz, M.J., Gilmore, C.J. & Bryan, R.F., 1976. Structure and stereochemistry of jatrophone a novel macro cyclic diterpenoid tumor inhibitor. Journal of the American Chemical Society 98(8): 2295–2300.
  • Mshana, N.R., Abbiw, D.K., Addore-Mensah, I., Ekpere, J.A., Enow-Orock, E.G., Gbile, Z.O., Noamessi, G.K., Odei, M.A., Odunlami, H., Oteng-Yeboah, A.A., Sarpong, K., Sofowora, A. & Tackie, A.N., 2000. Traditional medicine and pharmacopoeia. Contribution to the revision of ethnobotanical and floristic studies in Ghana. Organisation of African Unity / Scientific, Technical and Research Commission. 920 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Ogbobe, O. & Akano, V., 1993. The physico-chemical properties of the seed and seed oil of Jatropha gossipifolia. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 43(3): 197–200.
  • Pandey, A., Maity, B.R. & Samaddar, K.R., 1996. Antifungal activity of plant latex towards certain fungal organisms. Journal of Mycopathological Research 34(1): 35–40.
  • Radcliffe-Smith, A., 1987. Euphorbiaceae (part 1). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 407 pp.
  • Raina, A.K. & Gaikwad, B.R., 1987. Chemobotany of Jatropha species in India and further characterisation of ‘curcas oil’. Journal of the Oil Technologists’ Association of India 19(4): 81–85.
  • Seigler, D.S., 1994. Phytochemistry and systematics of the Euphorbiaceae. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 81(2): 380–401.
  • Singh, A. & Agarwal, R.A., 1988. Possibility of using latex of euphorbiales for snail control. Science of the Total Environment 77(2): 231–236.
  • Stäuble, N., 1986. Etude ethnobotanique des Euphorbiacées d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 16: 23–103.

Sources of illustration

  • Berhaut, J., 1975. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 3. Connaracées à Euphorbiacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 634 pp.


  • V. Kawanga, Zambian Branch, Commonwealth Forestry Association, Private Bag RW 359X, Ridgeway, 15102 Lusaka, Zambia

Correct citation of this article

Kawanga, V., 2007. Jatropha gossypiifolia L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 13 July 2021.