Turpentine broom

flower

Rutaceae

Sometimes people mistake this green and usually leafless shrub for mormon tea. A quick whiff of a crushed stem will alert them to the difference: mormon tea has no particular odor; turpentine broom smells sharply and strongly like turpentine. The smell originates in the small, round glands that dot the stems. Turpentine broom belongs to the same family as the various citrus trees, and you can see similar glands on the rinds and leaves of oranges and other citrus fruits.

Caterpillars of the black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes coloro), a rather large black and yellow butterfly, eat only turpentine broom. The odor of the foliage acts as a chemical signature for female black swallowtails, which lay their eggs on the foliage. By tapping the stems or leaves with their feet, the butterflies can tell the difference between turpentine broom and other plants.

This shrub flowers from January through April, one of the earliest bloomers in the desert. The deep purple flowers, stacked one above the other on the tapering, green stems, look like tiny flasks. Later in the year, the two-lobed fruits are equally conspicuous. Slender leaves appear with the flowers but fall once the soil dries out. Turpentine Dro. m grows on rocky slopes in southeastern California, southern Nevada, and western and central Arizona.

flower

Rutaceae

Thamnosma montana

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