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Early Bloomer

One of my interests is the ethnobotany of the Sonoran Desert.  That is the study of how people and plants interact.  There is hardly a plant of the Sonoran Desert that doesn’t have a use for food, medicine, building material or spiritual need.  I have always been amazed at man’s ingenuity in discovering uses for the desert plants.

Even at this point in January we can see the beginning of our spring bloom. One of the earlier bloomers is the shrub known as brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).  This member of the sunflower family is already starting to produce the long flower stalks that will support the yellow sunflower blooms.  Soon the hills and bajadas will be a golden blanket as the brittlebush flowers.

Brittlebush in its full Spring glory (Courtesy of Dave Morris)

There are several uses for the leaves of this plant.  When made into a strong tea and used as a gargle the plant produces a numbing effect to lessen the pain of toothaches.  A weaker tea is the remedy for arthritis pain and works well in suppressing allergy symptoms.  The plant also produces a gum or resin that was used traditionally as glue or a material to coat a basket to make it waterproof.  The Spanish found this gum to be a substitute for the incense used in church ceremonies giving the plant a common name of “incensio.” This year promises to be a fair one for our spring flower show.  Enjoy the beauty and help preserve our desert environment.

David Morris
FSDNM President

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