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Jatropha Curcas Plant (RatanJyot, VanErand)
Botanical Features: It is a small tree or shrub with smooth gray bark, which exudes a whitish colored, watery, latex when cut. Normally, it grows between three and five meters in height, but can attain a height of up to eight or ten meters in forests, under favourable conditions.
Leaves: It has large green to pale-green leaves, alternate to sub-opposite, three-to five-lobed with a spiral phyllotaxis. In winter, all the leaves fall and the shrub is leafless.
Flowers: The petiole length ranges between 6-23 mm. The inflorescence is formed in the leaf axil. Flowers are formed terminally, individually, with female flowers usually slightly larger and occurs in the hot seasons. In conditions where continuous growth occurs, an unbalance of pistillate or staminate flower production results in a higher number of female flowers. More number of female flowers are grown by the plant if bee keeping is done along with. More female flowers give more number of fruits and hence more seeds.
Fruits: Fruits are produced after winter. It may produce several crops during the year if soil moisture is good and temperatures are sufficiently high (25oC to 30oC). Each inflorescence yields a bunch of approximately 10 or more ovoid fruits. A three, bi-valved cocci is formed after the seeds mature and the fleshy exocarp dries.
Seeds: The seeds become mature when the capsule changes from green to yellow, after two to four months from fertilization. The blackish, thin shelled seeds are oblong and resemble small castor seeds.
The oil content is 25 to 30% in the seed with hard black cover. Without cover it is 50 to 60% in the white kernel. The oil contains 21% saturated fatty acids and 79% unsaturated fatty acids. There are some chemical elements in the seed, such as Cursin (like Rysin in Castor), which are poisonous and render the oil not appropriate for human consumption.
Medicinal plant: The latex of Jatropha curcas contains an alkaloid known as jatrophine, which is believed to have anti cancerous properties. It is also used as an external application for skin diseases and rheumatism and for sores on domestic livestock. In addition, the tender twigs of the plant are used for cleaning teeth, while the juice of the leaf is used as an external application for piles. Finally, the roots are reported to be used as an antidote for snake bites.
Raw material for dye: The bark of Jatropha curcas yields a dark blue dye which is used for colouring cloth, fishing nets and lines.
Soil enrichment: Jatropha curcas / Castor cake is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and can be used as it is as organic manure for plantations.
Leaves: Jatropha leaves are used as food for the tusser silkworm.
Insecticide/ pesticide: The seeds are considered anthelimintic in Brazil, and the leaves are used for fumigating houses against bed bugs. Also, the ether extract shows antibiotic activity against Styphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.
Alternative to Petroleum Diesel: It is significant to point out that, the non-edible vegetable oil of Jatropha curcas / Castor has the requisite potential of providing a promising and commercially viable alternative to petroleum diesel oil since it has desirable physicochemical and performance characteristics comparable to petroleum diesel. Diesel cars can be run without any change in design, with 2% to 5% Jatropha curcas oil blended with petroleum diesel.
There a number of varieties of Jatropha. Best among these is Jatropha curcas as it yields oilbearing seeds. Some of the others are
For mitigating climate change by reducing emission of green house gases, meeting rural energy needs, protecting the environment and generating gainful employment, Jatropha curcas / Castor has multiple role to play. All attempts to increase its production and productivity, oil extraction by application of appropriate technology, product development and diversification and policies that will protect and promote national interest would be welcome.
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