Friday, August 26, 2011

Of Goat-heads, Purslane, Caterpillars, and Dragonflies


I almost think I’d rather have a few rattlesnakes around than goat-heads.

The goat-heads are far less dangerous, but hurt a little every day. Unlike the rattler, they make no effort to avoid you and don’t sound a warning when you approach. Rather, they hope to hitchhike on your feet or clothing to some place new where the seeds inside them can germinate. Why they think the inside of our house would serve them well is more than I can say, but I guess they keep hoping I’ll go somewhere new.

Anyway, we kept getting victimized by the damn things when we were here last year.

A friend and neighbor has often offered us the loan of a weed-wacker; but that would not only take down the goat-heads but a whole lot of other stuff like datura (which, though poison to us, seems to attract caterpillars and moths and what-not) and other flora that amuse the crickets, butterflies, or hummingbirds.  In addition, we've recently learned that our instinctive deference to the plants around our place has other benefits, including the fact that leaving datura around means the critters that like to eat tomatoes and datura have a food source other than our tomatoes and our neighbors'.
So this morning Dael looked on-line for the goat-head plants, which (out back of our place, at least), look sort of like this:

They have yellow flowers and look harmless, but too damned many of these thorns have lodged between my sandal and my bare foot. It ain’t fun.
Unfortunately, selectively weeding all these plants - called "puncturevine", or Tribulus terrestris, would be difficult. 
An on-line business (at, not surprisingly, offers a "biological solution: Puncturevine Weevils." These are said to be host-specific fellows who eat the damned things. (They’re Microlarinus lareynii, first introduced for this purpose in 1961.)
But the weevils don’t like harsh winters; and I’m not sure how plentiful they might get if we released a bunch here.
Guess I’d better start wearing real shoes.

Meanwhile, in other Goat-head News:

                                there exists a motorcycle club that took the name

The folks who sell the weevils offer this handy drawing. 

After a moment you should recognize it as two people who just stepped on goat-heads.

I know the feeling.  

And goat-heads drove this guy, like me, to wear shoes.  His are called faux paws.
Or "ouchless faux paws."


There’s a plant called purslane. It turned up in the pot where the avocado tree lives, and has thrived.  I readily confess I didn’t have a clue what the hell it was until Dael told me, nor do we know how it started growing in that pot; but it tastes pretty good and is apparently an extraordinarily healthy thing to eat. (According to Dael's favorite book,  The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia , it's a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce cholesterol, and contains antioxidants, as well as being  rich in several vitamins.  It's highly valued in Europe and Asia as a medicinal herb.  In fact the book adds, "When I taught cookery in New Mexico my older Latino and Native American students fondly recalled verdolagas, as they called purslane, as a staple green from their childhood."  Chickens like it too - and egg yolks from chickens that were fed purslane contained 10 times the normal amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.)
We’ve been tossing it into salads and I’ve been adding it to the Sunday omelettes for a while now.
Thus we were delighted to realize that hidden among the amaranth now growing behind the house are a whole slew of purslane plants.
We were equally pleased, upon closer inspection, to realize that colorful caterpillars like hanging out on them.  And eating them, which leaves less for us, but they're small.
The caterpillars were this morning’s little surprise, but the down-side of spotting all these wonderful little critters and healthy plants is not wanting to put my big feet on ‘em.

The dragonflies I photographed late yesterday were back this morning [24 August].

Also on hand was a large bird, who posed for pictures in the locust tree. We’re guessing she’s the female Bullock’s oriole, but we don’t know. I should say Dael’s guessing, because as to most of this information I don’t even know enough to speculate. Readers of blog and column should be aware: I know almost nothing. I can paint what I see in words and photographs, but I don’t actually know much.

Dael inspects the amaranth crop

Variants of some of the images above:


  1. Puncture vine has medicinal uses according to Michael Moore, who has a rather humorous entry in his book "Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West".

  2. The Bulgarian Olympic weight lifting team was eating ground up puncture vine seeds, because they thought it gave them a steroidal boost, without showing up in the testing. Puncture vine seeds have been used as an aphrodisiac in India under the name gokharu for hundreds of years.