Monday, February 23, 2015

Turpentine broom

I learned a new plant on our walk through the park, thamnosma Montana, or turpentine broom or bush. I had read in Seven Incredibly Old Mojave Desert Plants, by Chris Clarke, that there was a plant that looks like ephedra that should be avoided. On questioning he mentioned "turpentine plant." When I looked it up I found the yellow-flowered Ericameria laricifolia and felt confident that I would not mistake if for ephedra.

On our walk through the park I found a plant that looked very much like ephedra but with small, deep blue flowers. I knew ephedra did not flower. I picked a bud and crushed a stem and noted a very strong scent, not so much like turpentine, but disagreeable. On this basis I searched for the plant and found that it was indeed turpentine bush.

Please forgive the horrible pictures below. My viewfinder is completely black on a bright day and I'm  usually only guessing at the location of the thing I'm photographing.

Thamnosma Montana (left) and ephedra (right)
I need to return to the park to take better pictures. Ephedra is a gymnosperm, so will not have flowers. The open cones look something like a yellow flower. The stems are jointed and you can sometimes locate small "pine" cones. I have never seem thamnosma montana outside of the park, that I know of.

Turpentine bush should be avoided. It seems native tribes used it for a purgative. Ephedra funerea, named after people living in the Funeral Mountains of Death Valley, has lower levels of ephedrine than does its Chinese cousin, Ephedra sinica, or ma huang. It seems Ephedra funerea was widely used in desert communities and by those passing through, as a mildly stimulant tea.

Please do not forage in the park or on private land, and please forage sustainably.