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Go Native with
Can You Identify This
Homing in on Jojoba
The Plant Vampires
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M E E T T H E N A T I V E S
Homing in on Jojoba
by Christine Bahto,
Jojoba, goat nut, pignut, deer nut, coffeeberry
The Sonoran Desert is home to an amazing number of interesting plants; many of
them used over the centuries by Native Americans for medicinal purposes and for
food. Jojoba (pronounced hoe-HOE-buh) is no exception. It is an economically
valuable native plant, but with its dense attractive growth it also makes a
beautiful landscape plant.
CLASSIFICATION AND RANGE
Jojoba is a member of the family
Simmondsiaceae, and its botanical name is rather confusing. In Latin, chinensis
refers to something of Chinese origin. Which begs the question: How did a
Sonoran Desert native that grows in Arizona, California, Northern Mexico and
Baja California-but NOT China-get its name? The answer seems to be that the
botanist who first collected the seeds got them mixed up with ones collected in
China, and the name has remained since.
Jojoba is a woody shrub with an average mature height and
width of 2 to 5 feet, although it can reach a height of 10 feet. Its gray-green
leathery leaves have a vertical orientation, which is an adaptation to the
extreme desert heat. The surface of the leaf is protected, while the edge
receives the full brunt of the midday summer sun.
Jojoba is a dioecious shrub, meaning the male and female flowers do not appear
on the same plant. The female flower is solitary and hangs downward at the leaf
nodes, while male flowers appear in small clusters. The shrubs are
wind-pollinated with the orientation of the leaves causing pollen to swirl
around the female flower, thus ensuring contact. The seeds form on the female
plant, and fall to the ground when fully ripe.
Jojoba grows best in sandy or rocky soils without soil
amendments or fertilizer. Once established, it should be able to survive with
little supplemental irrigation. Minimal pruning is required to maintain its
beautiful naturally rounded shape. It flourishes in hot sunny spots in the
garden, and makes an excellent border or a background plant for more colorful
flowering plants. Jojoba is a long-lived, tough-as-nails shrub that deserves
more consideration then it receives, especially when a native or natural desert
landscape is the aim.
HISTORY AND USES
Native Americans have used jojoba oil for cooking,
hair care, and as a treatment for medicinal problems such as poison ivy, sores,
wounds, cancer, and kidney malfunction. Both Native Americans and early white
settlers used the seeds to make a substitute for coffee. The seeds, as well as
the leaves, were also used as a forage source for livestock.
In the 1970's jojoba became the focus of numerous commercial research and
cultivation projects. The jojoba craze eventually waned, and since then the
industry has struggled with development and marketing problems. The plant is
currently being grown commercially in the US, Israel, Argentina, and Australia.
Jojoba seeds are unique in the plant kingdom in that they contain an oil that is
actually a liquid wax. The oil is chemically similar to sperm whale oil;
because it does not become rancid when exposed to high temperatures, it has been
used to replace sperm whale oil in industrial applications. The oil is also
similar to sebum, a substance excreted by human sebaceous glands. It is used
extensively in the cosmetics industry as a valuable ingredient in moisturizers,
cleansers, and conditioners. One-hundred-percent-pure jojoba oil can be found
in the natural goods section of some valley grocery stores, as well as in health
The next time you pick up a bottle of moisturizer or a new hair care product,
check the label to see if jojoba oil is listed as one of the ingredients. Then
take a look at the plants growing in your backyard, and consider how important
it is to preserve the unique plant spectrum of the Sonoran Desert for the
Benzioni, Aliza. "Jojoba." Institutes for Applied Research.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. 1997.
Duke, James A. "Simmondsia Chinensis." The Handbook of Energy
Tremper, Gary. "The History and Promise of Jojoba."
Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. "A Natural History of the Sonoran
Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products. www.hortpurdue.edu.
Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated October 4, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopaemail@example.com 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
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