Jatropha podagrica: Buddha belly plant

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Common name: Buddha belly plant, Coral plant, Gout plant, Bottleplant shrub, Bottle plant, Purging-nut, Australian bottle plant, Tartogo, Guatemalan rhubarb, Goutystalk nettlespurge

The name Buddha belly plant suits this uniquely beautiful plant, because of its swollen base or caudex. The plants can grow to a height of 2 meters in its natural habitat, but most garden plants only grow about a meter high. The base is swollen and filled with a sap, which helps this succulent plant survive without water for a long time.

Taller plants have thin, heavily fissured skin which peels off in small pieces. In stark contrast to the callused stem, the leaves grow on smooth greenish-red stalks that are about 15-20 cms long. The leaves are smooth and green, with 3-5 lobes and a wavy margin.

The plant produces small reddish-orange flowers held aloft on tall stalks or peduncles. Buddha belly plant inflorescence has red branching structures that bear the flowers and fruits. These pretty little flowers have 5 petals and a cluster of deep yellow stamens.

The flowers then produce fruits that have 6 distinct dividing lines; and are green in color. The color gradually changes from green to red and then to brown when the fruits mature. On maturity, the fruits burst open scattering 3-4 oval seeds about 4-5 feet around them.

The inflorescence carries both both male and female flowers; and are attractive to bees, insects and ants that help pollinate them. Though Buddha belly plants grow very slowly, they are quite hardy, and can even be grown as indoor plants. These plants can tolerate some amount of shade, but need indirect sunlight at least for a few hours. So make sure you keep them near a sunny window, when you grow them indoors.

All parts of the plant contain a sticky sap, that is very toxic to humans and animals alike causing adverse reactions like throat pain, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Touching the sap is likely to cause contact dermatitis. Hence it is a good idea to keep it out of reach of children and pets. And to use gloves while handling the plant.

It does not need pruning, and will grow in beautiful shapes if left to itself. You could remove dead leaves to keep the plant good-looking, and repot occasionally if the plant fills the pot it is in. The name Podagrica means swollen foot, and the swollen stems can fill flowerpots over time.

Since Buddha belly plants grow slowly, it can be grown as bonsai plants, or as garden centerpieces, that will bloom almost throughout the year.

Propagation is through seeds.

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