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  • John Gerschick

  • John Gerschick

Garden detective: What is it?

Published: Saturday, Jun. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 9:22 am

This plant sprouted in my garden next to some tomatoes. (I suspect blue jays at work.) It has a bloom that looks like a small orchid.

This plant is about 4 feet across and about 3 feet high and has three flower clusters. I have had several of these flowering plants growing in the fields but never in fertile and watered soil as this one and as a result they are much smaller.

What is it? And is it toxic?

– John Gerschick, Rio Linda

According to weed specialist Joe DiTomaso of UC Davis' plant science department, this mystery plant has "claws." And while the foliage is stinky, the seeds are edible.

"This is Proboscidea lutea, or now called Ibicella lutea," DiTomaso said. "The common name is yellow devil's claw."

Devil's claw gets its nickname from its distinctive seed pods, which can grow 4 to 6 inches long. They're long and curved like fingers.

Baldo Villegas of Orangevale, another local expert, recalled seeing these plants grow in his native Mexico as well as in the Central Valley.

"I used to see them growing along Highway 16 on my way to Rumsey near Esparto," Villegas said. "It used to bring back childhood memories when I used to eat the seeds in Mexico."

"Yes, the seed are edible and I have eaten many of them," DiTomaso said. "(They're) kind of nutty tasting. It's a crazy plant; looks pretty, but stinks and is sticky. The sticky secretion also stinks so be careful handling it. It is in a weird family called Martyniaceae and is related to the unicorn plant."

There's more than one weed with this unusual look, DiTomaso added. "There are two species; the other has pinkish flowers and is smaller. That one is Proboscidea louisianica. It is more common around here, but both are present."

Note that more than one plant is called "devil's claw." The other is Harpagophytum procumbens, a perennial that is native to Africa.


Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.

Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put "Garden Detective" in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact your UC Extension directly, call:

• Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. weekdays

• Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday through Thursday; email

• Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays

• El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon weekdays

• Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays or leave a message and calls will be returned

• Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesdays through Thursday or leave a message

• Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 225-4605

• Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned

• Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Mondays and Tuesdays and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays

• Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned

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