Friday, November 18, 2011
The view out my bedroom window is dominated by a jojoba shrub (Simmondsia chinensis), which is just beginning to burst into bloom. Jojoba is dioecious, which means there are "male," or pollen producing plants and "female" or seed-producing plants. The flowers in the photo above are males. Fortunately, I've got one of each in my backyard, so in a good year, we get some jojoba nuts, which are edible, although not so tasty as to inspire use as an ingredient in snack bars.
However, chances are high that you have a bit of jojoba in your household, since the waxy oil in the nuts has been harvested from commercial plantations of jojoba since the 1970's as an ingredient for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and industrial lubricants. The oil is famous for being a replacement for sperm whale oil, which was historically preferred for certain industrial applications because of its excellent heat tolerance and resistance to oxidation. The importation of sperm whale oil to the U.S. was banned in 1971.
Jojoba is an ultra drought tolerant native to the Sonoran desert, but is now cultivated all over the world in arid regions both as an ornamental landscaping plant as well as a commercial crop.