Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Green Madness, Koeberlinia spinosa

In the springtime it smells of rotting flesh and as such exhibits what I’ve termed carrion mimicry.  The potent putrefying smell draws hundreds of flies to the plant and those become the preliminary pollinators.  Known commonly as Junco (Hoon-Kowh) this mass of green thorns goes through several pulse blooms throughout the summer.  Subsequent blooms are not as strong smelling as the first which more-than-likely is a selective mechanism designed to diversify the pollinators.  Summer blooms of Koeberlinia spinosa have a sweeter smell than the horrific stink of the first couple of blooms in late spring and moths and bees become the main pollinators in later blooming periods.  The flowers are small and white.  The plant has no leaves to speak of other than small residual nubs that are, in effect, leaves.  However, the ultra-green stems (including the long thorns) are the site of photosynthesis within the plant.

The smell of early blooms is almost exactly the same as putricene or Tetramethylenediamine, NH2(CH2)4NH2.  That’s the smell of a rotting animal.  It’s not uncommon to wander into the brushlands looking for a dead cow or deer only to find out you’ve been tracking the scent of flowering Junco.

Junco has been used to make traps for rodents and small game.  When dried it is highly combustible and therefore makes excellent kindling.  The wood (if you can get past the thorns) is sometimes used for knife handles and small figurines.  People have planted junco around corrals and even their jacales (small mud and stick huts) in order to keep large predators at bay.  I imagine they take extra care to plant K. spinosa downwind.

Junco is one of my favorite Brushland plants because 30 years ago I spent a considerable amount of time studying its ecological role in the region.  I’ve used the thorns to make rodent traps but not much more.  I simply enjoy looking at Koeberlina spinosa and have sort of an affinity for the plant.  After all, it’s the Brushlands Green Madness.

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