A Plant that Can Possibly Draw Lightning

Devil’s Claw bloom

In these unprecedented times of 2020, I rediscovered a native beauty growing in a cotton field. While this plant is a low growing plant, the specimens in this field came up to over my knee. They are quite distinctive plants observed from 75 MPH and even more remarkable up close.

Devil’s claw or unicorn plant (Proboscidea louisianica) is a Texas native plant associated with disturbed soils, especially agriculture fields. The entire plant is sticky. After touching the flowers my fingers come back wet and sticky indicating they hold moisture. Yes – they do smell, but I never could identify the smell to relate it to something else.  Some references say they smell like old gym clothes. What was most remarkable is that the flowers were always blooming even during the hottest days here on the Llano Estacado. Their root structure from the main stalk is super thick. I can see why hoeing these plants was a massive pain on the other end of the hoe.

In doing some research I discovered Alfred Whiting, anthropologist and ethnobotanist. With his research with the Hopi Indians, he discovered that these Indians believed the long spines of devil’s claw drew lightning and rain from the skies and they never weeded the plants. 

Devil’s claw fruit

Devil’s claw has been utilized for food and fiber by southwestern Indians in North America for years. That whole green pod was harvested and cooked. Even more historical note is that back in 1845, Lieutenant J. W. Albert reported Devil’s claw growing in abundance around the playa lakes in the Texas Panhandle. 

One thing 2020 has given me is the chance to observe Devil’s claw. Special shoutout to the cotton farmer. I am thankful to you for this opportunity.