Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), pronounced “ho ho ba”, is the only species of the family Simmondsiaceae. Endemic to the desert regions of Arizona and New Mexico in North America, the small hardy shrub is a xerophyte (a species of plant adapted to a dry habitat). It grows up to five metres high, and can live for 30 to 100 years. It is dioecious, i.e. has separate male and female plants, and fertilisation occurs by the wind blowing pollen from bushes with male flowers to bushes with female flowers.
Jojoba has small oval grey-green leaves and small primitive-looking flowers that have no petals and appear on female shrubs in spring. After pollination the flowers form green seed pods containing seeds. The pods mature and dry on the bush, and in summer split and the seeds, which resemble roasted coffee beans, fall to the ground. The seeds, also referred to as ‘beans’ or ‘nuts’, are 12 millimetres long, hard and dark brown in colour.
It is the only plant to store wax, not oil, in its seeds, and it is the wax from the plant that is used by humans for many purposes. The liquid wax is usually referred to as jojoba oil and most Australian growers market the product as ‘golden jojoba’, not oil, to differentiate it from the product of oil seed crops, such as sweet almond oil. People indigenous to jojoba’s place of origin used the wax as a hair and skin conditioner, and to treat skin conditions; as well as making tea from the leaves.
Jojoba oil came to prominence on the world cosmetic market in the 1970s, replacing sperm whale oil, which was no longer considered ethical. The oil has many properties, including moisturising ability that makes it an ideal ingredient in cosmetic and skin-care products. Additionally, the oil is very stable and gives products a long shelf life.
The CSIRO introduced jojoba to Australia in 1978 and, encouraged by tax incentives, many orchards were established but failed to grow jojoba profitably — part of the problem was that many of the plants, grown from seed, were unproductive males – the oil is extracted from the seeds of the female plant. The Australian industry re-established in the late 1990s, with the release of improved varieties for Australian conditions and the formation of the Australian Jojoba Industry Association.
In addition, growers agreed to a voluntary levy on plants and seed production to help establish a fund for research and development and industry promotion. An initial period of enthusiasm within the industry coincided with high world prices for jojoba but was followed by a fall in prices due to a large government-sponsored jojoba project in Argentina flooding the world market. In the 2010s, the industry was considered to be in a recovery phase, with plantations withstanding the millennium drought and providing good supplementary income to farmers whose traditional crops suffered.
The Australian Jojoba Industry Association is the industry body for jojoba producers.
Facts and figures
- Jojoba is widely used in the international cosmetics industry, and can be used as a substitute for a wide range of oils and wax
- Resistant to drought and salinity, jojoba is ideally suited to arid inland conditions
- Cultivars developed for temperate rather than arid regions have increased potential production areas in Australia
- Jojoba is a perennial plant and a plantation can take 3–5 years before the first harvest is possible and 8–10 years before full production is reached
The key production regions for jojoba in Australia are the central western plains of New South Wales and southern Queensland.