Thursday, February 7, 2013

Desert Hyacinths

Desert hyacinths (Dichelostemma capitatum) send thin succulent stems up through the stoney desert soils from a corm, a marble-sized swelling of the stem, similar to a bulb. Because they arise from below ground reserves, hyacinths are more resilient to drought than desert annuals that grow from seed, and may be very abundant when there are few other flowers. This is one of those years in Deem Hills
Also known as snake lily, the stems may grow up to two feet (~60 cm) tall before blossoming into a cluster of lavender flowers. 
As with most wild plants, you will occasionally find an albino variety of the flowers. 
Many kinds of wildlife, especially small rodents, feast on the corms and actually help to propagate the plants by dispersing tiny "cormlets," or offshoots of the corms, in the process of digging. Indigenous people throughout the southwest deserts and California used to harvest the corms for food. The corms can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted. Digging them up is a challenge though, because they are usually deep in the soil, so  you have to use a digging tool to find the tender morsel. Ethnobotanists have reported that many hyacinth populations were actively managed by native peoples so that they could rely on an abundant harvest of hyacinth corms over many years. 

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