Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the February 15, 2015 Newsletter issued from Río Lagartos, on the north-central coast of Yucatán, MÉXICO

In thin soil atop limestone out in the zone where thorn forest mingles with savanna, a much-branched, thick-stemmed, chest-high shrub catches the eye with its completely leafless, swollen, semi-succulent stems, as shown below:

Pomol Ché, JATROPHA GAUMERIA, leafless bush in dry season

Even more eye-catching is that many of the grayish stems nowadays bear at their tips small tufts of tiny, delicate looking flowers, as shown below:

Pomol Ché, JATROPHA GAUMERIA, flowers

There you see male flowers consisting of purplish calyxes enveloping the corollas' bottoms, the corollas themselves with united lobes tinged with pink, and inside the corollas appear clusters of about ten pollen-producing stamens. I couldn't find female flowers, but it's early in the season and maybe later I can show them.

I've seen this combination of features before, especially the unisexual flowers and semisucculent stems, in members of the big Euphorbia or Poinsettia Family, the Euphorbiaceae. Therefore, it didn't take long to figure out that this fairly common shrub is JATROPHA GAUMERIA, endemic just to the Yucatan Peninsula south to northern Guatemala. It has no English and maybe no Spanish name, but the Maya are very aware of it, and call it Pomol Ché.

One reason for its fame among the Maya is that -- typical of juicy-stemmed members of the Euphorbia family -- the juice is full of powerful compounds that may be used traditionally as medicine.

In fact, the Maya know to drop Pomol Ché's sap, which is a transparent latex, onto ulcers or open sores, on the body or in the mouth, to promote healing. The latex is also used to clean gums and heal boils and fevers. Taken orally it's used for diarrhea and dysentery, by mixing its sap with that of the similar Jatropha curcas, which also occurs in our area. Children once used the light wood for making whistles, and its leaves were substituted for banana leaves when patting corn paste into tortillas.