The Long Island Seed Project
Martynia aka Unicorn Plant and Devil's Claw (Proboseidea
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Martynia aka Unicorn Plant
Native Seed Search (Tuscon, Arizona) is the source for seed of the
Unicorn Plant today, perhaps the only source. They provide seeds
of a number of varieties (all white seeded) that have been domesticated
by the Indians of the southwest U.S. The Unicorn plant is native
to the desert southwest and American Indians use the plant for a number
of purposes. The dried black pods can be split into strips which
provide the decorative black in woven baskets. The seeds can be
eaten as a protein rich food and the young pods can be eaten raw,
boiled or pickled.
- Martynia (Unicorn Plant) was distributed to gardeners across the country by the
Connecticut based Murvon Seed Company from the 1930's to the 1960's. They sold a
fine domesticated kind
that had seed pods only about 3" long, the catalog showed it's use as a dried
novelty and called it a "bird plant" because the dried stem of the pod pointed
down like a beak and the claws pointed up like tail feathers.
Martynia plant grew large even in New York and produced attractive
tubular spotted lavender and pink flowers. The large leaves
were covered with sticky hairs and, as I recall, the plant spread over
a couple of square feet. It seemed very much adapted to our
cooler garden which is quite different from the varieties that can be
obtained today which do best at high temperatures and full sunlight.
munched on the dry seed on occassion but can't recommend them for
snacking. The young pods are interesting as a vegetable.
Both raw and lightly steamed they have a nice consistancy. Some
people have described the young, tender pods as tasting a lot like
okra. I can see the similarity. Without further
preparation, the bitterness may not appeal to many people
though. I haven't tried pickling the pods yet nor breading
and frying them.
the pods mature and dry the fruit outer covering falls off revealing
one tough capsule which readily splits open giving rise to two slightly
coiling prongs. The prongs are adapted to snaring the foot of a
desert animal, hitching a ride as seeds scatter out the open end.
Seed pods lying around in the garden will do the same to unwary humans
and the tips of the prongs are sharp enough to break the skin at your
ankle. No wonder the ranchers of the southwest worry about the
wounds that their livestock can sustain from what they usually call,
"Devil's Claw". Introduced into tropical ecosystems this plant
has become, in some regions, invasive. It should not be planted
unless the spread of seed can be controlled. The Unicorn Plant is not the same plant as the "Devil's Claw" native to Africa and used as a medicinal herb.
Seed of the Unicorn
require plenty of warmth and moisture to germinate. The plants
resist drought once they are established but prefer the same kind of
attention you would give to a tomato plant. We start them early
indoors in a peat or compost mix and then set them outside when it
becomes warm in late May.
Last Modified: June, 2007