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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Desert plants: Jojoba

Andrea Meckley, Certified Horticulturist

Description:  Evergreen shrub
Mature size: 6 feet tall x 6 feet wide
Water use:  low
Exposure:  all day sun
Origin: Sonoran Desert
Uses:  Hedge, screen, or foundation plant
Hardy:  to 15 degrees F

Despite its scientific name Simmondsia chinensis, jojoba does not originate in China.  The botanist Johann Link originally named the species Buxus chinensis after misreading a collection label "Calif" as "China".  This hardy shrub has leathery grey-green egg shaped leaves and the female plant produces edible nut-like fruit.  Jojoba provides year-round food for many animals, including deer, javelina, bighorn sheep, and livestock. The nuts are eaten by squirrels, rabbits, other rodents, and larger birds. Only Bailey's Pocket Mouse, however, is known to be able to digest the wax found inside the jojoba nut.  The name "jojoba" originated from the O'odham people from the Sonoran Desert who treated burns with an antioxidant salve made from a paste of the jojoba nut.   In large quantities, the seed meal is toxic to many mammals, and the indigestible wax acts as a laxative in humans. Jojoba nuts contain more than 40 percent “oil,” which is actually a liquid wax. The wax is highly resistant to oxidation and is stable at high temperatures. These properties make it a very high quality lubricant, equal to sperm whale oil. Only sperm whale or jojoba oil is acceptable for some industrial applications. The wax is also used in cosmetics. For these reasons and because sperm whales are endangered, jojoba is being developed as a commercial crop in several countries.

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