Buddha’s belly: Japtropha podagrica

jatropha oct2

I have not mentioned houseplants for a while so I will put that right with one that I have a special fondness for. I like it for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that it is so easy to grow. It is also interesting and it flowers virtually all year too. It is a member of the euphorbia family but, unlike most, the floral beauty of the plant does not rely on bracts but it appears to have relatively normal flowers – something that is definitely not normal for the family!

Nothing much is normal about the plant at all and it has large, lobed leaves that are thick and almost succulent and a big, swollen stem that gives it its names of buddha’s belly and gout plant while the big leaves give us Guatemala rhubarb. It is native to Guatemala (no big surprise there) and Honduras but it is well adapted to life as a houseplant and in any frost-free climate, especially where there is a lack of water that would prevent other plants from succeeding.

jatropha oct3

Although it is capable of growing in very dry conditions, it is happier with more water and then it will be leafier and lusher. In times of drought it will lose its leaves and sit there as a swollen, brown stem but the flowers usually hang on. Typically the flowers are bright red but my plant has yellow blooms. I picked it because it was unusual; whether it is nicer or not I cannot decide but it is nice enough.

jatropha oct

Although the flowers are not typically euphorbia-like the seed pods are and you can see one developing among the flowers above. When ripe these explode to eject the large seeds and these germinate readily.

As a houseplant it is easy to please and should be kept in a small pot and, when you do need to repot it, choose a cactus mix or a coarse, well drained compost. Avoid overwatering at all costs but you do not have to be too mean with the water or fertiliser – just make sure it is not sitting in water at any time and especially in winter. Put it on a sunny windowsill, facing south or west here in the northern hemisphere, and make sure the temperature does not drop below 8c for any length of time. I suspect that it would take temperatures down to 5c or less if it was bone dry and dormant but as we want it to look good and most of us have houses warmer than that (even though as I write this the boiler is broken and I have no heating) I think this is academic.

In time Jatropha podagrica (I just love reading that out loud) will reach about 1m high and will branch sparsely, but it will take a long time to reach that size so don’t panic about it taking over your windowsill and blocking all the light.

I am sure no one would think about eating this but be careful because although it may not be poisonous it comes from a family of dodgy plants.

Macro Monday Answer


Yes, you guessed it – it was a moth orchid (phalaenopsis). I know have 20 of them in various stages of blooming (most not flowering) cluttering the windowsills. Few, if any, plants are better value or flower for so long. I always prefer the white and pink ones but every now and then I choose these more unusual colours.





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One Comment on “Buddha’s belly: Japtropha podagrica”

  1. sueturner31
    November 1, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

    A very unusual plant the Buddha’s Belly…I know a local G/C that does have more than the usual houseplants so I will keep a lookout for this and I prefer strange coloured plants so your orchid gets my thumbs up.

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