Jatropha Podagrica: Cultivating And Care Of The Buddha Belly Plant

The funny little jatropha podagrica [JAT-roh-fuh pod-AG-ree-kuh] is a great conversation starter and addition to any planter.

It’s native to the tropical Americas, including Mexico to Nicaragua, and is commonly cultivated as an ornamental plant.

Buddha belly plant and flowerPin

Podagrica means “swollen foot,” fitting for this swollen succulent-looking plant.

It features a swollen “trunk” that is topped with several large fig-shaped leaves. Besides the swollen stem, it produces bright red flowers throughout the year.

The jatropha podagrica is incredibly toxic, so special care is needed when dealing with this plant.

It also has quite a few different common names:

  • Australian Bottle plant
  • Bottle plant
  • Bottleplant shrub
  • Coral plant
  • Gout plant
  • Purging nut
  • Buddha belly plant
  • Guatemala rhubarb
  • Gout stick

Despite its toxic nature, the Jatropha podagrica from the family Euphorbiaceae is known to attract butterflies in any region where it grows.

Jatropha Podagrica Care

Size and Growth Rate

Buddha plants can reach several feet tall. When it reaches full height, the swollen stem resembles a trunk, making the plant look more like a small tree with a sparse crown containing a few large lobed leaves.

The gout plant is a slow-growing plant. The stem growing from the ground often has several smaller stems sprouting from the top that produce clusters of flowers.

As the plant grows, the exterior portions of the stem swell up and thicken. The swollen base is where the plant stores its water reservoir.

Flowering and Fragrance

The plant Jatropha podagrica doesn’t always bloom, especially when grown indoors.

It requires optimal conditions to encourage the flowers to bloom, which appear in clusters from long stems. 

The flowers are bright coral red with papery streaks on the petals. The blooms also don’t have a scent.

In addition, both male and female flowers will bloom even into winter after the large leaves have dropped. 

Light and Temperature

The Jatropha podagrica is recommended for USDA hardiness zones 8 to 9. Central Florida is an excellent example of suitable conditions for outdoor growth in the United States.

The plant needs sunlight and humidity. Outside of hardiness zones 8 to 9, grow the gout plant indoors.

Grow in large Buddha plant pots and reposition them throughout the year. The plant should get plenty of sunlight in the early spring but no direct sunlight.

The bright sunlight can scorch the new leaves that are starting to grow.

In the middle of spring and through the fall, the budda belly plant should get more sunlight with at least a few hours of sun. 

If possible, place it in a south-facing window, where it may receive some direct sunlight.

Gout stick can survive at average room temperature but prefers an ideal temperature a little colder during the winter. 

Lower the thermostat to the mid-60s when the leaves start to fall off again.

NOTE: If the gout plant gets too cold, it typically sheds its leaves. This doesn’t mean that it’s dying. It goes dormant and waits for warmer weather while relying on its water reservoir.

Watering and Feeding

The Budda belly plant will grow with little water during the spring and summer.

Wait until the soil is dry to the touch before watering. Remember that too much water will result in pale green or yellow leaves.

In the winter, it may only need water once per month.

Moreover, ensure there are drainage holes to allow the excess water to drain and prevent root rot.

To encourage growth, apply fertilizer sparingly during the active growing seasons of the spring and summer.

Soil and Transplanting

The jatropha grows best in well-drained soil but may also thrive in cactus soil with excellent drainage. 

If no cactus soil is available, use a combination of regular potting soil with 25% pumice.

When young, start the plant in a small pot and repot each year in the spring. As the plant gets taller, it needs transplanting to freshen the soil or when it outgrows its current pot.

Maintenance & Grooming

No grooming is required to care for the jatropha podagrica. Remove dead leaves as needed to make room for new growth.

How to Propagate Jatropha Podagrica

Propagate the Bottle plant from seed or stem cuttings. 

When propagating from seed, the plant needs to be pollinated by hand:

  • When the flowers start to ripen, tie small cloth bags over the capsules
  • Wait for the seed pods to explode
  • Remove the seeds from the cloth bags
  • Sow the seeds in moist soil, preferably in a seed tray
  • Maintain 75° degrees Fahrenheit and bright sunlight
  • Continue watering the seeds until they sprout.
  • When the seedlings reach several inches tall, repot into small three-inch pots.

Repot the plants every year into a larger pot. This slowly increases the size bulb.

When doing the stem cutting propagation, allow the cuttings to dry for a few days. Plant in moist soil and allow to take root before placing in a window with full sun.

Jatropha Gout Plant Pests or Diseases

In warm outdoor conditions, the Buddha belly plant may experience attacks from mites.

Use miticide at the fBuddhaign of an infestation.

Whiteflies may try to hide under the leaves. Use a diluted insecticide to treat the problem. A full-strength pesticide may harm the leaves of the plant.

Uses For Buddha Belly Plant

In warm, humid climates, the Bottle plant makes an interesting addition to the garden.

Due to the exotic appearance of the plant, it also looks great on a patio, sun porch, or living room.

However, remember that this plant’s white milky sap called latex is toxic and may cause skin irritation. It is also harmful to the eyes, mouth, and mucous membranes. 

If consumed, symptoms include diarrhea, severe nausea, vomiting, and even blindness. So be careful when handling this plant, and keep it away from pets and children.

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