If you have lived in the Southwest for a while, chances are good that you know (and have used) at least one word of O’odham! The word “jojoba” is directly from the O’odham name for that plant. The spelling comes to us through Spanish, and is pronounced “ho-ho-ba.” Meanwhile, the Spanish name “Tucson” is from the O’odham “Chuk-son” and was changed too much so it doesn’t quite count.
The scientific name of jojoba, Simmondsia chinensis, is an example of the need for good handwriting. The part of the name “chinensis” is because Johann Link, the botanist back in Europe that was naming the species, misread Nuttall’s collection label of “Calif” as “China.”
A Real Desert Dweller
With knobby gray branches packed with wax-coated leathery silvery green evergreen leaves, jojoba is built to withstand our climate. The leaves are around an inch long, and oval, sometimes almost trapezoidal in shape. Arranged opposite each other on the branches, the leaves are held pointing skyward. The flowers are tiny and greenish-yellow. Jojoba has separate male and female plants, so if you want seeds, be sure you have a female plant in your landscape.
There are a number of common names for jojoba, including goat nut, deer nut, pignut, wild hazel, quinine nut, coffeeberry, and gray box bush. Although there are references to jojoba as nuts, they are, botanically speaking, a seed. One of the first written notes about jojoba was in Father Kino’s dairy, where he called it a “medicinal fruit.” More on Father Kino in an earlier post – here.
Why should you consider growing jojoba? Jojoba is an attractive silver-gray bush, native to the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of Arizona, Southern California, and Mexico. Places that get as little as five inches of rain per year.
Along with requiring very little water, jojoba works well in the landscape where you want a screen. It has unusually dense foliage for a desert shrub. It looks good in mass plantings, and can be trimmed into a hedge form, although it will need extra water if trimmed often. While it can be trimmed, jojoba is a wonderful no-maintenance plant. You can plant it and forget about it as long as it gets five inches of rain a year.
Planting and Care.
While jojoba can survive on five inches of rain a year, it will thrive and reach its mature size more quickly with extra water.
Jojoba can tolerate reflected light, so it does well in hot south and west situations, and by pools. That said, it also grows just fine in the shady filtered light under mesquite trees.
Jojoba will require soil with good drainage (not clay), but does fine in rocky soils.
Jojoba plants are cold-hardy to around 15F, so do well in cooler areas of our region.
There can be no doubt that water use is an issue in the Southwest. Yet we all want a nice landscape around our homes. Planting native plants that are used to living on marginal rainfall is one good option. Yes there are some puny, scraggly, un-appealing native plants, but there are also some truly lovely ones to select from, like jojoba.
Plan now to come to the wonderful weekend event “Southwest Festival of the Written Word” in Silver City, New Mexico, October 4-6 2019. (more information here).
On October 6, I will be reading some of my gardening essays and signing books, including “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (Tierra del Sol Press). Note – this is a link to Amazon and if you buy the book there we will get a few pennies.
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