Friday, July 12, 2013

The Palo Verde tree

The desert tree: PALO VERDE (Parkinsonia microphylla and P. florida)

I recently re-discovered the Palo Verde tree, growing where it shouldn’t be growing near the Pasadena area.  It was probably spread there from a seed spread by a bird.

This desert tree is usually very inconspicuous, but when it flowers, it’s very showy and beautiful with its conspicuous flowers divided into five yellow petals.  The bark of the younger branches are green, hence the name.

There are thorns, and long ferny leaves, and pods that hang from the tree.

The tree is not particularly common, but is used more and more for landscaping since it’s drought-tolerant and beautiful when it flowers. In the wild, it’s found in the southeast deserts of California, into Arizona and down into Baja.

For the desert Indians, the seeds were the food from this tree, often eaten green by the  Cahuilla, Yuma, and other people.  Once mature and dried, the seeds were like little rocks, and would need to be ground into a flour, or parched, and then eaten. Sometimes they were sprouted.

Generally, the flour from palo verde would be made into a porridge, or something like cakes or biscuits.
Interestingly, this is often referred to as a “survival food.”  When I hear the word survival food, I think of something that you’d never eat unless you were desperate and starving – things like bark and lichens. It is thought of this way perhaps because the plant is not all that common, and because other tastier seeds – like mesquite -- were usually available to some of the desert people.

I’m curious – does anyone out there have personal experience with this seed?  I’ve eaten some and found  them good, and I don’t think I would classify them as “survival food.”  I’d like to hear from anyone else who has some personal knowledge of this plant.

[Nyerges is author of "Guide to Wild Foods" and other books; see Store at]

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