Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.
Q: Can you identify this mystery plant that came up voluntarily in my yard?
Nancy Oldham, Folsom
Horticulturist Ellen Zagory: I believe this plant is a Proboscidea, probably Proboscidea louisianica because the flower is pink.
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It comes up every now and then around here (at the UC Davis Arboretum), too, and is actually somewhat ornamental.
Its common name is “devil’s claw,” which is for the seed pod that gets these huge claws, and people make strange creatures with them.
It’s an annual, so it will only live one year, but she could collect seed if she likes it.
Editor’s note: Native to Louisiana, Texas and parts of northern Mexico, Proboscidea now grows wild throughout the lower 48 states. Naturally drought-tolerant, it thrives along creek or river banks and in meadows.
Besides devil’s claw, this low-growing annual has several nicknames, all derived from those unique seedpods. Those names include unicorn plant, ram’s horn and proboscis flower.
Some of the plant’s curlicuelike green fruit can be seen in the center of the photo under a large leaf. That fruit may be pickled or eaten like okra.
When that fruit dries, the green flesh falls away, exposing a woody curved shell tipped by a long beak or horn. That shell splits in two, forming two curled “claws.”
The seedpods were used by several Southwest Indian tribes in basketry. More recently, they’ve become a favorite source of inspiration among crafters – especially around Halloween.
Ellen Zagory is director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum.
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