Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reader Challenge: Help Identify this NorthWestern Kansas Prairie Seedpod

photo: wikipedia

Can any reader identify this very woody and exotic seedpod that looks like it has Wooly Mammoth tusks? It looks like it could possibly be related to the milkweed and it looks very primitive, like it is in search of a bison (or larger) leg to attach to. It was found in an arid mixed grass native prairie area in NW Kansas recently, when it attached to my husband's shoelaces.


  1. Looks like you could split it then wear 'em hooked over your ears like a bluetooth headset.

  2. Matt,
    Good observation. I think what you are suggesting is called biomimicry. Nice try, but it sounds like you need to disconnect yourself and take a long prairie walk yerself.

    See bluetooth headset.

  3. Devil's claw - probably Proboscidea louisianica

    Overview at

  4. Kay,
    I believe you've got the dried fruit of a member of the Martyniaceae or Unicorn Plant family. About thirty years ago I was spontaneously gifted a similar capsule by the venerable New Mexico geologist, Vincent C. Kelley, after glimpsing several striking specimens on the top of his refrigerator. He referred to them by their common name of Devil's Claw which would put them in the genus Probiscidea. Beyond that, on the species level I can't be sure. But, Martin and Hutchins in their A Flora of New Mexico, indicate that P. louisianica ranges from Delaware to Colorado and California and south to New Mexico.

  5. Anons x2,
    Thanks so much for the answer. The desert flora are still new to us after living in wetter climates most of our lives.

    This is a fascinating plant. I won the bet with my husband saying it was from a short plant - he guessed taller but I expected the flower to be more impressive.

    We certainly were on the right track guessing that it was primitive and attached to large mammals, as well as the comparison to wooly mammoth horns . . .

    They are also called "elephant tusks" and readily cling to the hooves of grazing animals or your shoes if you happen to step on them.

    Next summer when I visit the Denver Botanic Gardens, I will look for this plant.

  6. Here's a nice piece of artwork using what you found.

  7. Thanks for that! Nice art site, and I see that artist has some others using the devil's claw, too.