Candelilla wax comes from Euphorbia cerifera or Euphorbia antisyphilitica, named the candelilla plant.
Species are indigenous to Mexico, they also occur in the southern states of the USA.
The wax is deposited on the stems, and forms a protection for the plants for excessive water loss.
To yield economical amounts of waxes a desert-like climate is a boundary condition. Some like it hot.
The wax has so many unique properties, it is probably the most useful substance on the American continent that is extracted entirely from wild plants.
The chewing gum industry is the biggest consumer of candelilla wax, followed closely by the cosmetic industry, but more than 20 other industries depend on it.
Although Candelilla is easy to grow, cultivated plants don’t produce much wax. The best wax comes from plants in the wild. To get the wax, workers, known as candelilleros, gather the plant from the wild and process in the field by boiling the plants in a mixture of water and sulphuric acid. Boiling releases the wax which floats to the surface where it is collected and dried.
As a part of Mexican government plant protection from extinction scheme, all candelilla wax must be sold to government cartels. But the government doesn’t pay well, so many candelilleros prefer to smuggle the wax to American buyers. Candelilla populations have become greatly reduced in Mexico, but supplies are abundant in the US where the plant enjoys federal protections. Naturally, the great quantities of Candelilla on the north side of the border encourages smugglers to transport the plant across the border for processing. The peculiar result of this situation is that Candelilla may be smuggled into Mexico, while its finished product is smuggled into the US. In fact, Candelilla may be the only agricultural product that is smuggled from the US into Mexico!
Candelilla’s future is more likely to be secure despite its current exploitation. The plant doesn’t produce much wax during wet years, so supplies are unreliable. This situation encourages industry to develop alternatives to Candelilla wax, and indeed demand for the product is declining. The easy going nature of the plant is also helping protect it. It’s almost impossible to kill it.