878 Jatropha multifidaCommon Names: coral plant, physic nut, Guatemala rhubarb Family: Euphorbiaceae (spurge Family)
Coral plant is a shrub or small tree with a single trunk, a loose, spreading crown and a typical height in cultivation of 6-10 ft (1.8-3.1 m), although it can grow up to 20 ft (6.1 m) tall. The very distinctive leaves are large, growing up to 12 in (30.5 cm) wide. They are cut deeply into 7-11 narrow lobes with the margins of each lobe themselves dissected into narrow pointed segments. They are dark green above and whitish beneath. The flowers are bright coral red and borne in flat-topped clusters on long stalks held high above the foliage. Coral plant blooms on and off all year long, and especially during hot weather. Most euphorbs have a milky sap that flows from broken stems, but that of coral plant looks more like cloudy water.
Coral plant, Jatropha multifida occurs naturally in Mexico, and southward through Central America to Brazil. It is a popular landscape specimen in South Florida.
CultureCoral plant is a fairly fast growing little shrub that accepts a wide range of soil types. It is not particularly tolerant of salt spray or salty soil, though. Light: Full sun to intermittent shade. Moisture: Grow coral plant in a well drained soil. Once it is established, it is relatively tolerant of drought. Best results come from plants that get regular watering in summer and a dry period in winter, during which time leaf drop is natural. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12. Coral plant may drop its leaves if temperatures fall below 40ºF (4.4ºC). Propagation: Start coral plant from cuttings in spring or from seeds. On optimal sites, coral plant may self-sow and could even become somewhat invasive.
Coral plant is grown for its distinctive large leaves and its flashy red flowers. This is a perfect container plant for a sunny patio or at poolside. The leaves have a strange and unusual tropical look, and coral plant is often grown as a novelty specimen or accent. It is also a welcome shrub in mixed shrub borders and often used in cactus and succulent gardens.
Peregrina is another popular tropical and subtropical shrub in the genus Jatropha. The euphorbs are a large and diverse family with some 8000 species in more than 300 genera. Only the aster, orchid, pea, madder, and grass families have more species. Many of the euphorbs are succulents, and quite a few of them resemble cacti. Most have a poisonous milky latex sap. Among the better known members of the family are the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), rubber tree, cassava plant (Manihot esculenta), castor bean (Ricinus communis), tung oil tree (Aleurites fordii), and some 2000 species in the genus Euphorbia, including ornamentals like pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucalli), crown-of-thorns, and Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias).
All parts of coral plant are very poisonous if ingested and the cloudy sap may irritate sensitive skin.
Steve Christman 12/6/00; updated 11/24/03