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Bizarre Plant Domesticated

  • Botanical Specimen: Proboscidea althaeifolia (Benth.) Decne. (Martynia Althaefolia)

    anthroimages/medium/E76043_1.jpg

    (Cat. No. E76043)

    Botanical Specimen: Proboscidea althaeifolia (Benth.) Decne. (Martynia Althaefolia)
  • Botanical Specimen: Proboscidea althaeifolia (Benth.) Decne. (Martynia Althaefolia)

    anthroimages/medium/E76043_2.jpg

    (Cat. No. E76043)

    Botanical Specimen: Proboscidea althaeifolia (Benth.) Decne. (Martynia Althaefolia)
  • Botanical Specimen: Proboscidea althaeifolia (Benth.) Decne. (Martynia Althaefolia)

    anthroimages/medium/E76043_4.jpg

    (Cat. No. E76043)

    Botanical Specimen: Proboscidea althaeifolia (Benth.) Decne. (Martynia Althaefolia)

collection
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Location: Arizona
Culture: Akimel O'odham or Pima
Date Acquired: 1885
Accession No.: 015930

Related Plants
Collected by Palmer

Probiscidea
althaefolia
Probiscidea
althaefolia
Probiscidea
althaefolia
Proboscidea
louisianica ssp. fragrans
Proboscidea
louisianica
Proboscidea
parviflora


Bizarre Plant Domesticated
The richest folk taxonomy, the greatest genetic variability, and the earliest ethnohistorical record for Devil's Claw occur in southern Arizona, among the Akimel O'odham (formerly called Pima) and Tohono O'odham (Desert Papago) (Nabhan & Rea, 1987:60; Bretting & Nabhan, 1986:233) which form the Tohono O'odham Nation in South Central Arizona and Mexico which numbers approximately 20,000 individuals. According to scientists, the interrelationships between certain species of Devil's Claw and the basket-making cultures of the Akimel O'odham are profound and complex (Berry et al, 1981; Nabhan et al., 1981; Bretting, 1982; Bretting, 1984:460).

The Piman language is among one-hundred or so native languages spoken north of Mexico that are under immediate threat of extinction. However, it is still spoken, written, and taught from primary school on (Lewis, 2009).

The earliest documentation of Devil's Claw use in basketry among the Akimel O'odham dates back to 1825  (Nabhan & Rea, 1987:59-60). Edward Palmer recorded the Akimel O'odham weaving baskets of Devil's Claw and willow "for many purposes," (including trade) in 1885.

The weaving material comes from the devil's claw fruit, a bean-like pod (technically a drupaceous capsule) that develops claw-like horns (called rostra) and a leathery husk as it grows. Later in the season, the green leathery husk peels off, exposing a distinctive black woody fruit (Rea, A.M., 1997:241-242). The dry pods must be soaked and then split from their points downward (Nabhan & Rea, 1987:58). The splints are buried in wet earth to keep them pliable while the basket maker works (Curtin, 1984). In a finished basket, the fiber/material reflects light and is therefore easy to distinguish from other types of dark fibers.

The Fairest Seed of Them All. . .
Several species of wild Devil's Claw species exist in the southwestern US and northern Mexico. The two wild species have black seeds. Over the course of the past century the Akimel O'odham have developed a third, domesticated form of devil's claw in order to have a reliable source of material for baskets, now made primarily for sale.  Blackness, seed color, rostrum or claw length, fruit crest length and height, and softness or pliability of the fiber splints produced from the claws or rostra were several traits the O'odham considered to be worthy of selection.

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