"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Friday, 8 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: The Gout Plant, Biofuel and more.

I like everything about this plant. It's quirky and striking and it's the one with the ballistic pods which exploded in the studio a couple of days ago. One pod is still left so I have drawn that (quickly) and the remains of the shattered pod and a seed.
It has some wonderful names, Gout stick, Buddha belly, Guatemala rhubarb, Goutystalk nettlespurge, and Tartogo, as well as this splendid Latin name Jatropha podagrica. If this were my name I would, without a doubt, be a famous and sought after artist already. I may adopt it.
The Jatrophas, and there are qute a few of them, are from the Euphorbia family and native to central America. The name "Jatropha" is from the Greek iatrós meaning 'doctor', and trophé meaning 'food', referring to its nutritious qualities (although this one is poisonous!) and "podagrica" means 'swollen foot' ( gouty )



When you see this odd little plant you realise why it has the name Buddha belly, from its bulbous thickened lower stem which gives it a belly (to rub for good luck of course). Another Buddha plant for this month.
This photo from Toptropicals site here shows very well its bottle shaped stem and also the two hopefully waving raised arms that are another characteristic, (this one seems to be wearing small sunglasses too). Toptropicals is an very good site and I have referred to it quite often now. It has excellent information about plants and good photos too.

My photo below from Leu shows its nicely shaped leaves and brilliantly coloured flowers...and again, the two waving arms.



Its relative Jatropha curcas, the Physic nut, or Barbados nut has recently been discovered to produce excellent oil which could be a replacement for diesel. The seeds contain 30% oil that can be processed to produce this high-quality biodiesel fuel, usable in a standard diesel engine. Last year an article in the Times was optimistic ,

"The jatropha bush seems an unlikely prize in the hunt for alternative energy, being an ugly, fast-growing and poisonous weed. Hitherto, its use to humanity has principally been as a remedy for constipation. Very soon, however, it may be powering your car.
Almost overnight, the unloved Jatropha curcas has become an agricultural and economic celebrity, with the discovery that it may be the ideal biofuel crop, an alternative to fossil fuels for a world dangerously dependent on oil supplies and deeply alarmed by the effects of global warming.
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If you Google 'Jatropha' now you will find many trials and projects from all over the world growing and testing this crop.
The plant was already well know in some countries as a malaria treatment, live fencing and for candle-making and, despite its potentially fatal properties (three untreated seeds can kill a person) as an ingredient in medicinal remedies around the world, hence the name “physic nut”. There doesn't seem to be any down side to this plant as it grows almost anywhere, really quite liking arid and harsh conditions so we watch with interest its progress.

But getting back to the Gout plant, here is a closeup of the flower head where you can see the green pods developing. It would be wonderful to draw the whole thing but I should have to, either get my own plant, or use a photo as there are only a few flowers on each plant, and I would need more than a couple of hours.



My drawing shows the one pod that remained after the first one exploded. It broke away from its central stalk which is on the left. What first drew my attention to these pods was an empty seed capsule that was sitting on one of the leaves. It looked just like a beetle. The pod divides into 3 capsules, each holding a hard, pretty little seed and the seeds look like beetles too. Fascinating.

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Gout Plant Pod and Seeds


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