Desert plant offers unique properties
BY DANIELLE GALLO
In the section about industry in her excellent history of Marathon , The Magnificent Marathon Basin , AnneJo P . Wedin outlines dozens of businesses that used to exist here over the town ’ s history : an apiary with 10,000 hives , a mink farm , the guayule rubber processing facility , scores of retail businesses , and the ranching of goats , mohair and cattle . But she makes brief mention of one intriguing enterprise in the 1970s : a jojoba plantation south of the town .
Jojoba ( pronounced ho-ho-ba ), Simondsia chinensis , is an unassuming shrubby desert plant native to the deserts of North America , primarily California , Arizona , Southern Utah and Northern Mexico . An evergreen , its foliage feeds a variety of animals including javelina , deer and rodents . In the wild it ’ s usually small , seldom seen over five feet due to the harsh conditions in which it ’ s found and the grazing of animals , though wild specimens have been noted around nine feet . In its native habitat , years with zero rainfall are not uncommon , and temperatures can reach over 120 degrees Fahrenheit . Jojoba is salt tolerant and thrives in nutrient-poor soils . It is believed to have an average lifespan of about 40 years , though individuals have been found with 200 rings ; whether these are annual rings or growth-spurt rings due to rainy years is unknown .
None of this is particularly interesting except to the desert botanist , however . What makes jojoba interesting is the nut it produces .
The nut of the jojoba plant contains a unique oil with fascinating properties . Its closest comparable natural oil is whale oil . Jojoba nuts can be 65 percent oil by weight , and the substance has been described as being closer to a liquid wax in composition . It is a very long straight-chain ester , unlike other vegetable oils , which are triglycerides . This makes it resistant to going rancid , and very durable as an industrial lubricant . Most cultivated jojoba is used in the cosmetics industry . Though naturally a pale yellow color , gentle heating renders it perfectly clear . It is also odorless . Native Americans used it for burn salves , hair and skin conditioning , and as an animal hide preservative .
The oil is not digestible by most mammals and has a laxative effect in humans , though some Native women ate the seeds to aid in childbirth , and there are accounts of hunters eating the seeds to keep hunger at bay on the trail . The seeds are high in protein , containing 25 to 35 percent . Jojoba seed meal was tried as an animal feed after the valuable oil had been extracted , but a problem quickly emerged : animals fed even a small percentage of the meal began rapidly losing weight . The seed was therefore thought to be toxic to mammals and the waste material from the oil extraction process was discarded .
Then , in the 1990s , a Belgian scientist ,
14 Big Bend Real Estate Guide • November 2022