How to find live shea plants in the US?
January 30, 2009 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Vitellaria paradoxa, know as the shea plant, is used to make shea butter, a common ingredient in cosmetics. Is it possible to find a live shea plant in the US? Or is this something that has to be carried in clandestinely?
posted by infinitefloatingbrains to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If I were a betting man, I'd guess that any species in the US would live in research greenhouses and such. The laws against bringing plants in clandestinely are fairly strict. In any case, it looks as though it would need an arid climate similar to Uganda and Burkina Faso to grow well.
posted by jquinby at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2009

Yes to what jquinby said - I've seen one shea plant in the US, in a conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota.
posted by medea42 at 10:08 AM on January 30, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the leads - several specialty foliage places called me back to say 'no, not possible.' For my purposes, I may just have to fake it with a mango leaf.

Strange that a plant with that many applications can't be easily found.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 10:59 AM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: If I were a betting man, I'd guess that any species in the US would live in research greenhouses and such.

Yes, it's from the Sahel belt, 8-20 degrees north. It's unlikely that it can be grown successfully in the US- even Hawaii and Florida are unlikely, as it does not grow in coastal regions (areas with a high degree of maritime influence), and is accustomed to a dry period of 5-8 months. They have to be around 15 years old to begin to fruit. Propagators plant fresh seed as it loses it's viability as it ages. I think the fact that it can't be raised as a crop here, and that fresh seed is required limits it's actual existence in the US- that, and the fact that it is a highly managed crop in Africa. In some places, only women may harvest it, and under very strict conditions. You may be able to get cuttings from a botanical garden (hypothetically), and grow it indoors for awhile, but raising one to productive maturity is a long shot unless you have a large, arid greenhouse.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:14 AM on January 30, 2009

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