Friday, June 3, 2011

Granjeno: The Desert Hackberry

In the semi-desert of South Texas and the deserts of West Texas as well as neighboring Mexico this time of year takes on a polka-dot effect. Thousands of shrubs and small trees bear their spring and summertime fruit with colors ranging from dark purple to red or yellow and stark orange. When granjeno berries ripen (gran-hen-oh) in the riparian zones and drainage routes the Brushlands become studded with bright orange specks. Birds show up by the hundreds. Mockingbirds, green jays, cactus wrens, pyrrhuloxia, cardinals, scaled quail and many other seed eaters congregate on the granjeno shrubs and small trees competing one with the other for the choicest morsels. Small mammals will either climb into the trees or gather underneath gobbling up the fruit. I watched a couple of raccoons once shaking a large granjeno bush with a determination rivaled only by the local tax collector. The berries fell to the ground and the two raccoons swept them up and jammed them into their mouths like noisy street sweepers. The shaking bush attracted the attention of a wandering coyote and when he showed up to see what was causing the commotion the raccoons flew into a rage and chased him off.




Here are a couple of photos of granjeno shrubs. Granjeno, also called desert hackberry, is a member of the elm family or Ulmaceae and owns the scientific name, Celtis pallida. There are four members of the elm family found in South Texas and all of them produce edible fruit although humans—the other foraging creature—prefer only granjeno fruit.


In past millennia the family bands and small groups that roamed the Coahuiltecan geographical region (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/st-plains/peoples/coahuiltecans.html) were as generally well nourished, perhaps even more so, as modern humans. With hundreds of edible fruits, legumes, roots, assorted teas and an array of other plant materials like nopalitos and agave they had at their disposal a smorgasbord of nutritious plant foods. Add to that an assortment of mammals, foul and fish. Of course, life was hard. But every generation has its daemons and it might be argued that nowadays the bad guys—from polluters to proselytizers to politicians to fill in the blank—give our lives equal uncertainty.


These granjeno fruit are ready to eat.


The berries are about the size of a pea and have a sweet taste. Like most fruit they have a seed that one spits out while chewing the sugary pulp. The species name, pallida, by the way, gets its name from the pale color of the bark. I attempted to make a bow from granjeno once but found the wood too unstable for any successful selfbow.
         

10 comments:

  1. I really want to grow this species on my property.

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    1. Steve; Do you have any granjeno in your area? You can plant the seeds directly or set up a dropping point for mockingbirds and thrashers to do the planting for you. Drop me an email at thewoodsroamer@gmail.com for more info

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  2. Is there a reason for spitting out the seed rather than chewing or simply swallowing it? I've heard that eating too many pomegranate seeds can get you in trouble (old wives' tale about seeds causing appendicitis, I think). I've eaten plenty without a problem, though I do tend to chew the various seeds I eat. One field guide says of serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia) that the seeds should be well-chewed to take advantage of the energy they hold. I just wonder if the habit of spitting out the seed(s) of various fruit is based merely in tradition.

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    1. It really depends on who you talk to. Most Americans suffer from diverticulosis (small pockets in the colon) caused by our diet of processed foods and not much roughage. For a long time there was the belief that seeds lodging within those pockets could cause them to become infected and thus resulting in a dangerous condition known as diverticulitis. This is a potentially life-threatening condition but is treatable with antibiotic therapy. However, there are some physicians who claim that seeds do not cause diverticulitis if the overall diet is high in fiber. With that said, however, some doctors advise patients, especially those with a history of diverticulitis, to be careful and monitor the food they eat. I suspect, though I am not a medical doctor, that chewing the seeds thoroughly limits the possibility of them lodging in the diverticuli, the small pouches in the colon. Perhaps you might ask your family doctor or a gastroenterologist what the current medical opinion is concerning eating hard seeds like those found in granjeno or watermelon etc. Hope this info helps.

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  3. I like your Pictures!! I always eat things as I walk in the wild. There is nothing better than these wild foods and berries. I need to learn all about the differen't that my Granny Lucia taught me.

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    1. If your Granny Lucia isn't around anymore then more's the pity. My grandmother, Lita, died almost thirty years ago. She grew up on a ranch. My grandfather, Papagrande, was a bushcrafter ... and we'd never heard of that term. It was just the way we lived. Nature was an integral part of our lives. I'm the viejito now and so I guess I carry that mindset on for the family.

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    2. I have seeds but they keeping getting moldy on me. I have the red variety and have no problem growing. I even have two small seedlings. Is there a store online to buy seeds or seedlings from? Or you? Thank you.

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    3. There's a friend of mine who owns a native plant nursery in Harlingen, Texas. I don't have his contact information but his name is Mike Heep. We've known each other for many years. You might call the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, Texas to get Mike's contact information or perhaps they will provide you with other names of retail native plant nurseries.

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  4. De niño solía comerlos cada vez que iba con mis abuelos a Atongo N.L. Hace mas de 30 años que no los como. Saludos.

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