The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Anemopsis californica
Yerba mansa

FAMILY:  Saururaceae — Lizard's Tail family

ETYMOLOGY:  The name of the genus Anemopsis is formed from the Greek word, anemone, meaning "daughter of the wind" and the suffix -opsis, or "resembling". With its large white bracts held above masses of green foliage, yerba mansa does resemble the anemones, also known as wind flowers, which, like yerba mansa, also lack petals.

The common name, Yerba mansa, is from the Spanish hierba, meaning herb, and mansa, meaning mild or tame.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE:  Found in OR, CA, NV, UT, AZ, NM, TX, CO, KS, OK, and northern Mexico

HABITAT:  Found below 6,500' in damp soils of bogs, marshes, stream banks, and wetlands, often growing in alkaline and brackish waters. The plant is tolerant of extreme heat as long as ample water available.

BLOOMING SEASON:  May to August

DESCRIPTION:  Herbaceous perennial plant that grows from woody rhizomes, 4-20" high

Flowers are supported by stiff upright stems, 4-8" above the foliage. What appears to be a single flower with white petals is actually a dense cone-shaped cluster of roughly 100 tiny individual flowers that are surrounded by large white bracts at the base of the cone. Each small flower on the cone, or spadix, also has tiny white bracts at its base but lacks a calyx or corolla. A closer look at the spike reveals bright yellow anthers above the bracts of each tiny flower. When mature, the spike turns reddish-brown and holds the seeds together in this conical capsule that can be carried away by water, releasing seeds along the way.

The oblong leaves grow up to 6" long and have the color, size, and shape of spinach, only thicker. In late summer into fall, the plant's foliage turns bright red with black spots and eventually dies back in the winter. With age, the plant's roots become corky and develop a brown bark. Plants can develop into thick colonies formed by stolons that grow from the base of the plants. New plants can grow from each node of the stolons, similar to the way strawberry plants grow. All parts of the plant—flowers, leaves, roots—emit a spicy fragrance similar to eucalyptus or camphor.

NOTES:  Anemopsis californica is the only species in the genus Anemopsis.

ETHNOBOTANIC USES: One of the most widely utilized medicinal plants of the Southwest, yerba mansa has been used as a diuretic, disinfectant, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. The seeds can be ground into a meal to make a gruel or to add to bread.