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.