Jatropha berlandieri (2011)

PhotoBy Norma Zack (February 2011)

At the January meeting I can thank my husband, Zack, for signing me in on the lucky number that gave me the opportunity to acquire the unusual Jatropha berlandieri, commonly called the baseball plant. Frankly, I started out a bit hesitant to take on the responsibility of the “Specimen Plant,” but now have embraced it and hope to be successful in showing it. For this I know I will be enlisting the help of my husband, who has been instrumental in fostering my interest in cacti/succulents.

Knowing absolutely nothing about the baseball plant, doing the research was quite enlightening. An interesting feature of this plant is its large caudex or tuberlike woody root. This swollen root or stem is used for water or food storage, allowing the plant long periods of survival without water or other forms of nutrition.

It goes dormant in the fall, when all the leaves and stems dry up, and only the dry bulb remains. It remains dormant through the winter, and watering should be kept to a minimum during this period. This is the stage that it is now in.

In the spring/summer, it sprouts palm-shaped greenish-blue leaves up to 10 centimeters long and very deeply lobed five to seven times. Its pretty pink to poppy-red flowers are arrayed in loose clusters at the ends of long stalks that resemble parsley. Each inflorescence bears individual flowers – of which three or four are female and 10 to 12 are male – up to 12 millimeters wide. The flowers are followed by green, pealike berries containing three seeds.

This plant is great in containers. It likes full sun, good drainage and a cactus/succulent soil mix. It is not happy in freezing temperatures.

So, with all this helpful information, it will be my mission to nurture my baseball plant to show worthiness this summer. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!