The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Proboscidea althaeifolia
Devil's claw

FAMILY:  Martyniaceae — Unicorn plant family

ETYMOLOGY:  The genus Proboscidea takes its name from the Greek proboskis, or elephant's trunk, a reference to the tapering, curved ends of the fruit.

The species epithet althaeifolia indicates that the leaves resemble those of the hollyhock, Althaea.

DESCRIPTION:  The large fragrant bright golden-yellow flowers of the perennial devil’s claw appear July through September in response to summer rains. The petals, collectively called the corolla, are partially fused forming a “throat”. The throat is marked with coppery-colored lines and spotted areas extending onto the large lower lobe of the unfused portion of the corolla.

Growing from a large tuberous root, reddish-brown stems and branches trail vine-like along the ground with ends tending to turn upward. The edges of the dark green leaves are slightly lobed and wavy. After flowering and fruiting, the plant will die back to ground level to await next year’s summer rains.

The fruit, a large yellowish-green capsule containing many seeds, grows in the form of a large hooked claw. As the fruit ages, it dries, and its cover sloughs off leaving a hard fibrous structure. The hooked portion splits forming two claws or horns. This unusual structure gave rise the names devil’s claw, unicorn plant, elephant tusks, cuernos del diablo (horns of the devil), and espuela del diablo (devil’s spur) . The claws help in seed dispersal by hooking onto hikers’ boots, skin a and clothing, the fur of animals, and the hooves of deer and cattle. Fibers from the devil’s claw are used by Native Americans to create designs in their basketry.

Devil’s claw grows in sandy soil from southeastern California east to Texas and south into Baja and mainland Mexico.