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Master Gardener Journal  


M E E T   T H E   N A T I V E S



Homing in on Jojoba

by Christine Bahto,
Master Gardener


BOTANICAL NAME:
Simmondsia chinensis

COMMON NAMES:
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.

DESCRIPTION
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.

CARE
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 food stores.

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 future.

References:

Benzioni, Aliza. "Jojoba." Institutes for Applied Research. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. 1997.

Duke, James A. "Simmondsia Chinensis." The Handbook of Energy Crops. 1983.

Tremper, Gary. "The History and Promise of Jojoba."

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. "A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert."

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 Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092