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Pima-Maricopa Devil's Claw
Pima-Maricopa Devil's Claw
Pima-Maricopa Devil's Claw

Pima-Maricopa Devil's Claw

Regular price $5.00 Sale

Proboscidea parviflora var. hohokamiana

Origin: Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community

Improvement status: Landrace

Seeds per packet: ~15

Germination tested 12/2019: 82%

Life cycle: Annual

A friend sent us these exciting seeds, which were originally collected at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (which is surrounded by what we call Arizona). Devil's Claw has long been an important plant for indigenous peoples of the US Southwest and Northern Mexico. Many Native communities in the region (where it still grows wild) steward domesticated varieties, though most of these have become quite rare.

The leaves, stems, and unripe pods are covered with slightly sticky dew with a unique scent (some people love it, others don't) which has the advantage of capturing and killing tiny insect pests, and preventing predatory herbivores like deer from showing it any interest. Its gorgeous foxglove-like flowers become edible green pods that look like okra, only stretched and curved (kind of like cartoon elf shoes). As those pods harden and become inedible, the pointed end elongates and splits down the middle as the pod dries out, coming to resemble two brown elephant tusks pointing toward each other, each with a sharp barb at its end. But some hard-to-find varieties, including this one, produce more than two barbs per pod — in this case 4 to 6. It's believed that these barbs evolved so that the pods could hook on to the ankles of passing giant herbivores, like extinct ground sloths or woolly mammoths. The hard pods would eventually drop seeds after being repeatedly knocked against rocks, dispersing the species across the region.

The barbs are made of a strong black fiber that has long been used in Native American basketry, enabling artists to include a black design contrasting with the tan of the yucca fiber that is their primary basket-weaving medium. The dry pods are also full of edible and nutritious seeds that taste like a delicious combination of sunflower seeds and pine nuts. They are not easy to get at, as the dried pods are incredibly hard, but this variety has easier-to-access seeds than others (the multiple barbs make it relatively simple to rip the pod apart). It even drops some where it grows while the pod is still on the plant. To get at the hard to reach seeds, the pods must be cracked open with a rock or pried apart with pliers. 

The extreme length of the barbs on some domesticated types (like the Tohono O'odham variety) indicates that this plant can be modified by selective pressure, so it's likely plant breeding could improve it further — perhaps making the seeds easier to access, or increasing the number of seeds per pod. That seems like a very worthwhile project to us, because the seeds are a singular food that more people should experience. This is a plant that really must be seen to be believed.

We're so grateful to the indigenous people who domesticated this plant and continue to treasure it today. In their honor, we will donate 25% of the packet price for each packet sold to the Salt River Community Children's Foundation, which supports programs and organizations that provide services and assistance to children and youth in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

GROWING TIPS: The plant is quite easy to grow and this variety did very well in 2019 for Nate in New Jersey. You can expect it to thrive well beyond its typical Southwestern habitat. Seeds are probably best direct-seeded after all threat of frost has passed. If started inside, they shouldn't be allowed to get too leggy, so don't start them too early. In good soil (and it need not be great — these are desert plants after all), plants get big very fast. Full sun.