Traders helped spread Jatropha

Know your islands

Plants from the Jatropha genus natively occur in Africa, North America and the Caribbean.

The jatropha was spread as a hedge plant to Africa and Asia by Portuguese traders traveling from the Caribbean.

Jatropha is a genus of about 175 succulents, or water-retaining plants, adapted shrubs and trees. Some are deciduous, such as the Physic Nut or Jatropha curcas.

The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford; Photograph by Frank Roulstone.

Wild Oil Nut

Jatropha divaricata

Related to, but quite different in appearance from the well-known Physic Nut (Jatropha curcas), the Wild Oil Nut is a small, slender tree with very long stalked leaves.

Each leaf has three main veins which divide right at the base: this is a convenient way of distinguishing it from the similar Galipee.

Wild Oil Nut has pale bark, mostly firm but shedding a few papery flakes. It appears lumpy, because of very broad, shallow depressions in the bark which run erratically up the trunk.

White, grey and dull pink lichens colonize the surface. The small, bell like flowers are waxy white.

In the Cayman Islands this is a very rare tree, only recently discovered in the Mastic Woodlands of Grand Cayman, where several can be seen along the Mastic Trail. The tree has not been found on Cayman Brac or Little Cayman, but does also occur in Jamaica. It takes well from cuttings.

Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit, or call 949-0121.

This week’s column from the National Trust is submitted by Stuart Mailer, Field Officer at the Trust.