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 and commonly cultivated as an ornamental plant.

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

Buddha belly plant and flower
podagrica Jatropha bulb and flower – image (left) Wikimedia Commons

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:

  • Bottle plant
  • Bottle-plant shrub
  • Gout plant
  • 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.

To bring more butterflies to your patio or garden, follow these plant care tips.

Jatropha Podagrica Care

Size and Growth

The Buddha belly plant 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 leaves.

It’s 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 and don’t have a scent.

Light and Temperature

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

The plant needs sunlight and humidity. Outside of hardiness zones 8 – 9 grown the gout plant indoors.

Grow it in a large pot and reposition it throughout the year. In the early spring, the plant should get plenty of sunlight, but no direct sunlight.

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

In the middle of spring and through the fall, the plant should get more sunlight. If possible, place it in a south-facing window, where it may receive some direct sunlight.

The plant can survive in average room temperature but prefers temperatures a little colder during the winter. Lower the thermostat to the mid-60s when the leaves start to fall off again.

NOTE: If the 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 bottle plant doesn’t need lots of water during the spring and summer. Wait until the soil is dry to the touch before watering. In the winter, it may only need water once per month.

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

Soil and Transplanting

The jatropha grows best in cactus soil. 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 ot.

Maintenance & Grooming

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

Related Reading:

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 taking stem cuttings, 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 Buddha Plant Pests or Diseases

In warm outdoor conditions, mites may attack the plant. Use miticide at the first sign 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 Jatropha

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.