Sunday, December 28, 2014


Peritoma arborea

There is a video on YouTube which posits that taxonomists, having no new plants to name, have begun to rename all of the plants with which we are familiar.  That obviously overstates the matter. But, as a non-botanist observer of the plant kingdom, I understand what they are saying. Bladderpod is a good example. 

When I first came upon this plant, in the late 1970s, it had the scientific name of Isomeris arborea (Nutt.). Then about December 1989 the name was changed to Cleome isomeris (Greene). And, in July 2010 it became Peritoma arborea (Nutt.). Also, it was moved from the Capparaceae (which includes capers) to a family named Cleomaceae (spiderflowers). Lastly, It has been divided into three varieties based on the shape of the fruit, with var. angustata having fusiform fruits, var. arborea having obovoid fruits, and var. globosa having spherical fruits. 

It occurs in varied habitats, found throughout the Califronia in Coastal Sage Scrub, Creosote Bush Scrub, and Joshua Tree Woodland. Which is to say, it ranges from the deserts to the Channel Islands. The plant is a branched shrub that can up to six feet in height. It has thin, evergreen leaves about half an inch to an inch long. Bladderpod will flower in any month of the year. This is not very common in our natives. The flowers, appearing as abundant inflorescences at the ends of the stem branches, are yellow with long stamens. The inflated bladder-like fruits give the plant its common name. Some say that the epithet “Isomeris” was a nod to the equal halves of these pods.

Bladderpod is generally described as ill-smelling. However, in my experience, rubbing a pod produces a scent much like that of bell pepper, which I like.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Deer Grass - Muhlenbergia rigens

Deer Grass - Muhlenbergia rigens
Deer Grass - Muhlenbergia rigens 

Deer Grass or deergrass, Muhlenbergia rigens, a monocot, is a perennial herb that is native to California and is also found outside of California, but is confined to western North America. Its range extends north into Shasta County, and south into New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. A member of Poaceae (Gramineae) Grass family, it inhabits a wide variety of habitats such as grassland, riparian, chaparral, mixed conifer, and oak woodland communities. 

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fixation on plant names. Do they make sense, or not? This is one that seems to be a puzzlement. My research has found indications that deer do not readily browse on this plant. One source suggests that the name came about because the animals hid their fawns in it.  Admittedly, I have not seen it in the wild, but based on the plantings I have seen locally it would not seem to make an effective cover. Perhaps the best explanation is that it does grow in a prime deer habitat - the dry chaparral.

Some Native Californians ate deer grass roots. However, it was more valued for its flowering stalks which were utilized extensively in the making of coiled baskets. While still used in basketry, today it is more commonly used in water-wise gardens.The lovely gray-green foliage, which reaches lengths of about 3 feet, makes it a beautiful plant for home landscaping.  It is evergreen, shade and sun tolerant, grows well in sandy or gravelly well-drained soils, and can be maintained in fall by mowing. While recommended for xeriscapes, it may require some watering during the summer to keep it looking at its best.