Leatherstem, Jatropha dioica

You may notice the naked brown “leather stems” of this shin high, clumping plant after the first frost or you may notice the green staghorn shaped leaves throughout the spring, summer and fall. The leaves under perfect conditions some years will turn lovely autumn colors before dropping off for dormancy. Jatropha dioica is known locally as leather stem but you may also hear it referred to as Sangre de Drago. When cut, these stems and roots drip a red dye that is reminiscent of blood. The sap has historically been used to “stop the flow of blood from slight wounds” (Warnock, 1970) and as an anesthetic especially for toothaches.

Leatherstem, Jatropha dioica
Leatherstem, Jatropha dioica

The flowers are tiny and short lived, you may never notice when Leatherstem is in flower during the summer. The flower is followed by a fat green seed pod that contains a large seed which is easy to handle. White winged doves feed on these seeds (Warnock, 1970) I have had success propagating these seeds they don’t seem to need much special treatment.

I have also had very good success transplanting the clumps of stems. This high success is probably due to the thick fleshy roots as those characteristics will almost always transplant better than woody roots. You can find leatherstem growing commonly around Lajitas and on the mountainsides of Terlingua Ranch. It seems to grow taller in rocky volcanic soil but is also found to grow in rocky limestone soils. I find it commonly along the Rio Grande in Big Bend Ranch State Park where in some instances the clumps of stems grow to above my knees.

The Ethics of Wild Harvesting

Wild harvesting of plants to propagate and use personally can be accomplished in a legal and sustainable manner. It is legal in some cases to forage seeds, berries, leaves, cones or mushrooms for personal use from public lands such as any land administered by the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife or the lands designated as Parques Nacionales in Mexico but you should first contact the respective park service to ask specifics and or obtain permits.
–Do not collect plants or plant parts from public lands without the proper procedures in place.
–Never collect endangered, protected or sensitive species even on your own property.
–Do not enter private lands for any purpose if you do not have permission to do so.
–Harvest first from areas that will be disturbed by development.
–Make sure you know your plant and can make a positive identification.
–Never harvest the first plant you see, find the healthiest population that does not appear to have been harvested.
–Never take more than ten percent or more than you need
–Always ask the plant if it wants to go with you first. Yes, really.
–Fill holes, spread the seeds of collected plants and return to the area later to monitor the effects of your harvest.


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Warnock, B. (1970). Wildflowers of the Big Bend Country Texas. Sul Ross State University.