the plant that saved the sperm whale


simmondsia chinensis

  • TO ABOUT 6' TALL, 10' wide


  • moderate to low WATER (terrace to upper zone)



  • saved the sperm whale

The sperm whale was hunted aggressively for a long time for its oil. In many industrial lubricant applications, no oil could handle the high-heat conditions some situations posed. That is, until someone discovered the qualities of the jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis). Oil from jojoba was up to the task, and being an arid land crop, was fairly easy to grow. Jojoba found use in many other cosmetic applications as well. 

Oddly enough, jojoba is not a significant crop in the place it is native. Ahh, you gotta love capitalism--as long as someone can grow it cheaper, even if you have to purchase it from the other side of the planet (India), cheaper is always better. It's sad because in our arid land the biggest crop is lettuce. It should be agave and jojoba. But I digress...

Jojoba is a fantastic, evergreen landscape shrub. Jojoba has many adaptations that help it survive in the desert: the leathery, almost plastic-like leaves orient themselves in such a way that they shade themselves; the least amount of sun beats down on them during the hottest part of the day. Jojoba is a dioecious plant (meaning some plants are male and some are female). Female plants will eventually produce nut-like fruits which can be eaten. Don't eat too many of them, just a taste should be sufficient as they have a lot of tannic acids, and the fruits are highly laxative. It probably says a lot that even the rugged Seri of Sonora didn't eat jojoba fruits unless things were really, really bad. 

Put jojoba in full sun, with low to moderate water. This plant requires almost no work. Also, because this plant isn't grown for its flowers or other showy feature, it makes a great backdrop for other showier plants and accents. Plants take well to pruning, though we think it's better to just let them be. 

Katherine Gierlach