Monday, July 13, 2009

Mormon Tea

“Howdy Charlie, Reno. Come on in,” Kate said. She held the door open and the two dusty cowboys walked in. Reno fingered the brim of his hat and Charlie looked around the large appointed room finally holding his gaze on the chandelier. “Would you fellers like some tea, while you wait?” Kate asked. “Tea?” Charlie asked. “Yes, tea, Jack Tea, Jack Mormon’s tea."

The Mormon Tea plant, also known as Pocotillo, Cowboy Tea, Tuttumpin, Ephedra and scientifically as Ephedra Viridis is a perennial shrub that is common in the Trans Pecos. Growing up to four feet tall, the branched broom like plant flowers in March and April. It is a vascular plant meaning that it has lignified tissues allowing the conduction of water, minerals and photosynthetic products to circulate within the plant tissue. These basic minerals and nutrients remain in the plant while the water is transpired through the stomata and into the atmosphere. Circulating resources allows the plant to grow larger than most non-vascular plants. Trees, ferns, moss and flowering plants are vascular.

Natives of the Trans-Pecos used the dried and powdered twigs in poultices for burns and ointment for sores. The tea was used for stomach and bowel disorders.

The plant contains ephedrine a stimulant and has an effect on the body similar to adrenaline. Ephedrine has been found in other plants related to Mormon Tea around the world and the chemical has been used in modern pharmacology as a diuretic, decongestant, appetite suppressant and to treat hypotension associated with anesthesia.

In 1885 a Japanese chemist was the first to isolate ephedrine. It has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for centuries and may have been the substance known as Soma as mentioned in the Hindu sacred text Rig Veda.

Early white settlers in our country used the plant to treat venereal disease and was sometimes served in houses of ill repute.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Giant Yucca

She stood under the Giant Yucca, a sliver of shade in the mid day sun. The chard of her deer hide garment rippling lightly in the breeze. It had been seven days since she had slipped away from the tribe. Three winters she had slept in the mud wattle, three years since she had seen her mother. And now at 13, she stared into the bush of the Yucca in the gravelly soil of the desert scrub and wept.

The Giant Yucca also known as Yucca faxonia, Giant Dagger, Spanish Bayonet and Palma Samandoca is the largest of the yuccas and grows prolifically in the Trans-Pecos. The upright single trunks can reach a circumference of six feet and some thirty feet tall. Sharp pointed leaves protect the terminal stalk and the creamy white bell shaped flowers attract a wide variety of animal life including, big horn sheep, bees and humming birds.

Indians roasted the young flowers and the reddish fruit pods for food. Vaqueros and cowboys have cut the trunks during droughts in parched lands to let cattle chew on the inner stalk.

Giant Yuccas generally grow in elevations above 3000 feet and prefer desert scrub or grasslands. The Dead Horse Mountains near Black Gap Wildlife Management Area provide an ambitious display of the Giant Yucca plant community. Associated species in this part of the Trans-Pecos include gramas, mariola, lechuguilla, sotols, cenizos, acacias and mimosas.

Recently the City of Alpine, Texas was awarded a Champion Tree Certificate for the Giant Yucca growing at the southeast end of City Hall. The plant measured over 23 feet high, a crown spread of 10 feet and a trunk circumference of six feet. It is the largest know Giant Yucca in Texas.