This is the most distinctive wolfberry in the desert Southwest. The leaves, much larger than on any other wolfberry, are bluish-white and waxy, and the greenish flowers are nearly an inch long. Like all wolfberries, this one is thorny. It is unusual, however, in that its leaves are evergreen, or nearly so, instead of drought-deciduous.
Pallid wolfberry fruits prolifically in the late spring and summer The succulent, red berries of this particular species are somewhat bitter, but Native Americans could seldom afford to ignore such an abundant resource. They ate the berries fresh and also dried them for later use. (A few species with much sweeter berries also bear abundant fruits, and these were eaten as well.) Birds and other animals feed avidly upon the berries and no doubt disperse the seeds from place to place.
Because the leaves remain on the plants year-round, pallid wolfberry has a higher demand for water than its drought-deciduous relatives. In the desert, it tends to grow in washes where runoff supplements natural rainfall. At higher elevations, pallid wolfberry can be found on rocky slopes and plains. It grows from southern California to Texas and in the adjacent states of Utah and Colorado.
Although commonly called beargrass, this plant is not a grass at all. It is a member of the Agave Family, and among its relatives are the yuccas, agaves, and sotols. Finely toothed along the margins, beargrass leaves can inflict painful cuts on unwary fingers. The leaf bases clasp the stem in densely overlapping spirals, an arrangement that produces the rosette of leaves so characteristic of the Agave Family.
Beargrass rosettes make dense, fountainlike clumps on hillsides and canyon slopes at the upper margin of the desert. Each rosette arises from a creeping stem that is partly buried in the soil. Wildfires consume the leaves and char the aboveground portion of the stem; but, since the growing point is protected underground, new leaves soon appear from the old, burned growth.
In May and June, flowering stalks push their way above the leaves. The inconspicuous flowers are most likely wind-pollinated; nevertheless, they produce enough nectar or pollen to attract a multitude of bees and wasps. Long after the small, round seeds have dispersed, the flowering stalks remain in place like ragged bottle brushes.
The fibrous leaves have long been used in basketry by Native Americans. In northern Mexico, they are still collected for making brooms. Beargrass grows from Arizona to Texas. A similar species, Nolina texana S. Wats., can be found in southeastern Arizona and western Texas. Nolina bigelovii (Torr.) S. Wats, of western Arizona and southern California has a definite trunk and wide leaves.
Teddy bear cholla
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