Some new plant friends

Mountain Yucca / Spanish Dagger

The new friend I know best is the Mountain Yucca (aka Spanish Dagger). Besides being pretty, it provided me tinder and a needle and thread for a sewing repair.  The yucca fiber repair survived the laundromat washing and drying, so it must be good.

Mtn. Yucca fibers. On left, as gathered; on right almost ready for tinder ball.

Green Mtn. Yucca fiber; needle is on right end. Fibers not yet cleanly stripped of the green stuff.

Ocotillo, about 15 feet tall.

Meet the ocotillo, another new friend. This produces beautiful flowers, elegant stems, pretty leaves, and has many uses.  The dead stems are used to make ramada roofs for shelter from the sun, they can also be planted in closely spaced rows to make a “living fence” that even the most obnoxious neighbor is not going to cut through.  To conserve water, they drop their leaves at the beginning of the dry period – a signal to move north to cooler weather.  They probably have more uses that I don’t yet know.

One of our new friends is pretty famous, jojoba (pronounced ‘hohoba’).  These trees are either male or female, and the female produces “nuts” from which the pricey jojoba oil sold in natural health stores is made.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of this one.

I have to mention Jumping Cholla cactus, because it’s one of those friends

Jumping cholla is in the foreground on the right.

that invites itself into your company and then quickly becomes too painful to continue associating with.  Although it doesn’t actually jump onto you, it might as well because even the lightest contact breaks off a chunk (called a ‘joint’) which then somehow buries its needles in your leg.  It is not excruciating to pull needles out if they haven’t buried themselves deeply (that is, don’t wait!).  Nevertheless, it is very pretty and provides a home for at least two species of birds.  Packrats haul off the joints to make a barrier fence around their dens.

Prickly pear; some have orange/pink flowers.

The prickly pear cactus; you know, the ones with Mickey Mouse ears for branches.  We have some native ‘opuntia’ species in Michigan (we found some in Wisc., too).  The fruit is edible, after tedious removal of the million hair-size needles and roasting.  I tried some of the Michigan species fruit (can’t disclose which garden), and it did not rank as a must-have food.  But at least it’s food.  Not only the fruit, but the lobes.  These lobes (off which species, I am not sure) can be de-spined, peeled, and cooked.  They’re called ‘nopales’ down here.  I haven’t found a place that serves them yet, so I can’t give a culinary opinion.  They also come in purple.

Purple prickly pear.

The Compass Barrel Cactus.  It always points South or Southwest.  In a featureless terrain on a cloudy day, that is enough of a

Compass barrel cactus.

service  to earn it a friendly label.  By the way, although there is water in them, most survival experts whom I’ve read say that the tiny bit of water that you can extract is not worth either the effort or the destruction of this plant.  I had to add that in case you’ve seen those dorky cowboy movies.

Mesquite Tree and Creosote Bush.  They always have plenty of twigs to offer for the twig stove.  You don’t even have to break of

Mixed mesquite and creosote.

f dead branches to get them; they shed their stove-quality twigs.  How considerate!  Both burn well.  Creosote, when dry, doesn’t leave an oily residue, as the name suggests that it would.  However, the sap of this plant is the source of the creosote used to weatherproof railroad ties.  Mesquite, well, think of how much extra you pay for mesquite-smoked anything.  Out here, it’s all free.


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