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Simmondsia chinensis (Link) C. Schneid.


Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Simmondsia is unique among plants in that its seeds contain an oil which is a liquid wax. Oil of Simmondsia is obtained by expression or solvent extraction. It is light yellow, unsaturated, of unusual stability, remarkably pure, and need not be refined for use as a transformer oil or as a lubricant for high-speed machinery or machines operating at high temperatures. The oil does not become rancid, is not damaged by repeated heating to temperatures over 295°C or by heating to 370°C for four days; the color is dispelled by heating for a short time at 285°C, does not change in viscosity appreciably at high temperatures, and requires little refining to obtain maximum purity. Since Simmondsia Oil resembles sperm whale oil both in composition and properties, it should serve as a replacement for the applications of that oil. The CMR (Nov. 28, 1983) reports that a new oil from the fish known as orange roughy is "attempting to make inroads on the jojoba and sperm whale markets." Jojoba oil can be easily hydrogenated into a hard white wax, with a melting point of about 73°–74°C, and is second in hardness only to carnauba wax. The oil is a potential source of both saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids and alcohols. It is also suitable for sulfurization to produce lubricating oil and a rubber-like material (factice) suitable for use in printing ink and linoleum. The residual meal from expression or extraction contains 30–35% protein and is acceptable as a livestock food. Seeds were said to be palatable and were eaten raw or parched by Indians. Recent studies suggest they are toxic. They may also be boiled to make a well-flavored drink similar to coffee, hence the name coffeberry. It is an important browse plant in California and Arizona, the foliage and young twigs being relished by cattle, goats and deer, hence the name goatnut.

Folk Medicine

This shrub is first mentioned in the literature by the Mexican historian Francisco J. Clavijero in 1789, who noted that the Indians of Baja California highly prized the fruit for food and the oil as a medicine for cancer and kidney disorders. Indians in Mexico use the oil as a hair restorer. According to Hartwell (1967–1971), the oil was used in folk remedies for cancer. Reported to be emetic, jojoba is a folk remedy for cancer, colds, dysuria, eyes, head, obesity, parturition, poison ivy, sores, sorethroat, warts, and wounds. Seri Indians applied jojoba to head sores and aching eyes. They drank jojoba-ade for colds and to facilitate parturition.


I was amazed to see, in searching through my massive files on jojoba, that I had no conventional proximate analysis. It was not even included in two of my most treasured resources, Hager's Handbook, and the Wealth of India. (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979) (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976) Perhaps this is due to the relative novelty of interest and the unique situation that the seed contains liquid wax rather than oil, sort of unusual for the conventional analyses. Verbiscar and Banigan (1978) approximated a proximate analysis, some of which follows: per 100 g, the seed is reported to contain 4.3–4.6 g H2O, 14.9–15.1 g protein, 50.2–53.8 g fat, 24.6–29.1 g total carbohydrate, 3.5–4.2 g fiber, and 1.4–1.6 g ash. Seeds contain 2.25–2.34%, seed hulls, 0.19%. Core wood, 0.45; leaves, 0.19–0.23%; twigs, 0.63–0.75%; an inflorescence, 0.22%; simmondsin, a demonstrated appetite depressant, toxicant. Three related cyanomethylenecyclohexyl glucosides have also been isolated from the seed meal. The acute oral LD50 for crude jojoba oil to male albino rats is higher than 21.5 ml/kg body weight. Strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus can ameliorate this toxicity. The amino acid composition of deoiled jojoba seed meal is 1.05–1.11% lysine, 0.49% histidine, 1.6–1.8% arginine, 2.2–3.1% aspartic acid, 1.1–1.2% threonine, 1.0–1.1% serine, 2.4–2.8% glutamic acid, 1.0–1.1% proline, 1.4–1.5% glycine, 0.8–1.0% alanine, 1.1–1.2% valine, 0.2% methionine, 0.8–0.9% isoleucine, 1.5–1.6% leucine, 1.0% tyrosine, 0.9–1.1% phenyalanine, 0.5–0.8% cystine and cysteine, and 0.5–0.6% tryptophane. Detailed analyses of the wax esters, free alcohols, free acids, are reported in NAS (1975). Per 100 g jojoba meal, there is 1.4 g lysine, 0.6 g histidine, 1.9 g arginine, 2.6 aspartic acid, 1.3 threonine, 1.3 serine, 3.2 glutamic acid, 1.5 proline, 2.4 glycine, 1.1 alanine, 0.6 cystine, 1.5 valine, 0.1 methionine, 0.9 isoleucine, 1.8 leucine, 1.1 tyrosine, and 1.2 g phenylalanine. The two major flavonoid constituents of the leaves are isorhamnetin 3-rutinoside (narcissin) and isorhamnetin 3,7-dirhamnoside.


Leafy, xerophytic, long-lived (100–200 years), evergreen dioecious shrub, ca 0.5–1 m tall in the wild, but occasionally to 6 m tall; leaves thick, leathery, bluish-green, oblong, opposite, 2.5–3.5 cm long, entire; flowers apetalous, the female ones usually solitary in the axils, the male ones clustered with 10–12 stamens per flower; female flowers with 5 greenish sepals, soft and hairy; the flowers on different plants, male and female plants about equal in nature; fruits ovoid, usually dehiscent, with 1 to 3 peanut-sized, brown seeds each, the endosperm scanty or absent; seeds about 750 to 5,150 per kg, about 50% oil.


Reported from the Middle American Center of Diversity, jojoba, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate alkali, drought, heat, high pH, and slope (Duke, 1978). Yermanos (1981 b) describes a monoecious strain which may lead to self pollinating cvs. (n = 52, 56, ca 100)


Native to areas of northern Mexico, Lower California, on the Islands off the coast of California, New Mexico, and Arizona. It inhabits the mountains bordering the Salton Sea basin in the Colorado Desert in California, and the southern portion of San Diego County. In Arizona, it is found in the mountains around Tucson, near Phoenix, and north of Yuma. In nature, it grows between 600 and 1500 m elevation in the desert, down to sea level near the coast, between latitudes 25° and 31° N. There is a major effort underway in the U.S., Mexico, and Israel to domesticate jojoba. There are reports that it has been planted in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, Haiti, Israel, Paraguay, Rhodesia, the Sahel, and South Africa for example. The Israeli examples are bearing fruit. We are anxious to hear more success stories. There seems to be no major difficulty in growing the plant in frost free, arid, subtropical, and tropical zones, but not many success stories have materialized.


Ranging from Warm Temperate Desert (with little or no frost) to Thorn through Tropical Desert Forest Life Zones, jojoba is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 2 to 11 dm, annual temperature of 16 to 26°C, and pH of 7.3 to 8.2 (Duke, 1978). Jojoba is usually restricted to well-drained, coarse, well-aerated desert soils that are neutral to alkaline, with an abundance of phosphorus. It grows best where the annual rainfall exceeds 30 cm, but does exist where less than 12.5 cm occurs. Where rainfall is ca 75 mm, the jojoba grows to ca 1 m tall, where rainfall is 250–400 mm, it may attain 5 m. It tolerates full sun and temperatures ranging from 0° to 47°C. Mature shrubs tolerate temperatures as low as -10°C, but seedlings are sensitive to light frosts just below freezing.


Jojoba seeds retain nearly 99% germinability after 6 months, and 38% after 11 years stored in an open shed. Germination is good in alkaline sands at temperatures of 27°–38°C. Seedlings are frost sensitive. Field seeding can be done with a modified cotton planter. Seedlings need two or three irrigations during the first summer and must be protected from animals. Weeding is recommended after each irrigation. Adventitious roots may form on 50–80% of the cuttings treated with growth promoting substances. Plants could start producing seeds in 5 years, but full production would not be attained for 8 to 10 years. Using a 2 x 4 m spacing in planting would permit the planting of about 500 female and 50 male pollinating plants per hectare. Apomictic plants are known, lessening the need for male non-fruiting plants in the orchard. Suggested methods for planting include: Close spacing, ca 15 cm apart, resulting in hedge rows, with the seeds planted in flat borders or in a slightly depressed ditch so as to keep them moist until they germinate (ca 10–14 days). Male plants should be thinned out to about a 5–1 ratio, finally allowing about 2,500 plants per hectare, with possible annual yields of 2.5 MT/ha seed. Propagation by cuttings from selected shrubs could increase seed and/or oil yields. Generally flowering nodes and leaf nodes alternate, but some plants flower at nearly all nodes; some plants produce more than one flower per node. Transplanted seedlings survive readily, if the roots are pruned. Hence, cuttings could be made in a nursery for later transplanting in the field. The more efficient spacing for this method of planting is in rows 4 m apart, and the bushes in the rows 2 m apart. Male bushes should be interspersed throughout the grove (about 1,500 female and 250 male plants per hectare), possibly yielding ca 2.75 MT/ha seed. When softwood cuttings were treated with IBA, 4 mg/g of talc, they rooted 100% in 38 days.


In the wild, the only method for harvesting has been hand collecting from under the plants, since mature seeds fall from the bush. Under cultivation, hedge-row, or orchard-like plantations, without undergrowth, seeds could be raked from under the bushes and then picked up by suction. Pruning the lower branches might be advantageous if this method be used. A device could be designed to pick the seeds from the bush prior to the time of falling. Cost of harvesting would depend on the method.

Yields and Economics

Buchanan and Duke (1981) accept a figure near 2,250 kg/ha for yields of jojoba. Individual plants may yield 5 kg (dry weight) seeds and more, of which 50% (43–56%) by weight is a colorless, odorless liquid wax commonly called "jojoba oil" (N.A.S. 1975). Yermanos (1973) suggested that a 5 year old orchard should yield about 825 kg of nuts per hectare, increasing to 4,125 kg/ha in the 12th year, suggesting a renewable "oil" yield of ca 2 MT/year. Such yields may be optimistic, even for well managed plantations. Estimates of the amount of wild nuts available each year range from one hundred million to one billion pounds, the plants growing over 100 million acres in California, Mexico, and Arizona. Usually plants in cultivation yield oil in 6–7 years; the Israelis report their best specimens yield 2 or more kg of seed in the fourth year; wild plants yield about 1 kg of nuts per year, and cultivars should yield twice that amount or more. The seeds contain up to 50% oil. In 1958, long before the whale oil became endangered, the value of Simmondsia Oil as a hard wax was estimated at $.55 per kilo. Because of the present demand for the wax and oil, jojoba is being considered as a non-competitive crop, that could replace wheat and cotton in Texas and southern California, with as much as the yield from 70,000 hectares being absorbed by industry. The Chemical Marketing Reporter (Dec. 28, 1981) stated that jojoba prices doubled in 6 months to $200 per gallon. According to BioScience 25(7) (1975) the cost of establishing a plantation can vary from $3,000/ha on land with irrigation available to $5,600/ha on rough desert terrain. Once established, maintenance costs are low—only ca $200/yr. One hectare can yield 1,125–2,250 kg oil per year. (Recent prices have approached $50 kg, suggesting to the uninitiated yields of $100,000 per ha, right up there with the hyperoptimistic ginseng yields. In either case, a wait of at least 5 years for the first return seem inevitable. The wait for $100,000 per ha might seem interminable. JAD) Prices have gone down considerably since this was sarcastically written.


With 641 plants per hectare, the aerial phytomass (over 6% of total phytomass) was 1,573 kg/ha and annual productivity only 327 kg/ha (Braun and Espericueta, 1979). Daugherty et al. (1953) were optimistic, but not so optimistic as Yermanos about jojoba oil yields. They projected ca 500 kg/ha oil for jojoba, ca nearly 100 for cottonseed, ca 200 for flaxseed, ca 250 for soybean, and nearly 300 for safflower (based on 10 year averages for the conventional oilseeds, speculation for jojoba).

Biotic Factors

One fungus (Sturnella simmondsiae Bonar) occurs on the leaves, calyxes, and peduncles, but little damages the plant in this country. Phytophthora parasitica and Pythium aphanidermatum may cause root rot in jojoba plantations. Cuttings are sensitive to Alternaria tenuis, seedlings to Sclerotium bataticola and Fusarium oxysporum. A scale insect that inhabits the leaves also is not detrimental. There is a harmful pest, probably a microlepidopoterous insect, that destroys a large part of the wild crop by consuming the very young ovules. One spraying at the proper time might eliminate this damage. The scale Situlaspis yuccae and the unique mealybug Puto simmondsia have been reported.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw