Claws Of The Desert Devil

Last night I was out in the mesquite scrub when the thunderstorm blew in. I was a mile from my truck and before long I was drenched, and I couldn’t even see my way. I sensed a massive creature moving towards me, crushing mesquite and acacia trees in its path, and I backed away. A flash of lightning illuminated the creature, which had red-gleaming eyes and fangs dripping loathsome viscous ichor. I screamed as the spawn of hell leaped upon me and ripped my flesh with dagger-like talons…

Oops, sorry, that was just an idle fantasy! This is what really happened:

Last night I was playing music with friends at the Copper Queen Saloon in Bisbee, Arizona. While we played jaunty Irish dance tunes a dramatic thunderstorm moved in. We kept on playing right through a couple of power outages as lightning flashed overhead.

This morning I wondered how much rain had fallen out in the valley where Bev and I have built a cabin. I drove out there early, but walked the last mile so I could determine if the road was passable. The rain gauge at the cabin showed one inch of rain, and the desert scrub looked hydrated and happy.

The road wasn’t too eroded, and on my way back to my truck I decided to cut diagonally across a neighbor’s property. Luckily I had my trusty camera with me, as I encountered two species of plants in full bloom. The first one was intriguing. A low-growing plant, it had fleshy red-tinged stems and flowers which reminded me of those of Catalpa and Desert Willow trees.


The flowers modestly faced the ground, so I plucked one and arranged it on a leaf so as to make its beautifully-speckled mouth visible:


When I got home I determined that this plant was a Devil’s Claw (Proboscidea althaeifolia), a plant which I had never seen growing. I am, though, familiar with the dramatically-sculpted seed pods, which have an uncanny ability to latch on to man or beast. One day in March of 2013 I was laboriously making my way through a thicket of Point-leaved Manzanita and Emory Oak. I was up on a canyon slope on the north edge of Bisbee. When I emerged from the thicket I noticed that a Devil’s Claw seed-pod had found my arm:


When a Devil’s Claw seed-pod ripens it splits down a central suture and the wickedly-incurved spines are then ready for whomever happens by. It’s an ingenious system for transporting seeds to a new locality!

The immature pods are reputed to be good to eat, as are the ripened seeds. Some day I’ll try them!

The second plant I found looked something like a squash or cucumber plant. The leaves were pleated in a fetching way, and the yellow flowers looked to be open for sexual business:


Notice how the leaves are beginning to unfold their pleats now that there is some moisture in the ground:


The plant, which I later identified as Melon Loco (Apodanthera undulata), has simple but effective yellow flowers:


The growing tips of the shoots are appealingly fuzzy:


The little melon-like fruit of this plant is supposed to be very bitter. I suppose the common name “Melon Loco” is supposed to suggest that anyone who would eat one of these fruits is loco!


2 comments on “Claws Of The Desert Devil

  1. bev says:

    The dogs and I have had several encounters with Devil’s Claws. I find that they are just the right size and shape to latch onto the heel of my hiking boots. Neat to see such good photos of the flowers and leaves as there is litre remaining of the plant in winter – just a few dry stalks and some pods scattered in the sand where once a plant grew up in summer. Nice photos of the Melon Loco too!

  2. Rain Trueax says:

    Beautiful flowers and photos. The desert is such an interesting place.

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