Friday, March 20, 2009

The Mexican Buckeye

Last week, as my dog Molly and I walked the San Gabriel River Trail, I spotted one of my favorite trees, the Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa Endl.), also known as the Texas buckeye and canyon buckeye. Really more of a shrub than a tree, the Mexican buckeye is easily distinguished during much of the year by its reddish brown, three-lobed fruits that hang from the tree and that rattle when shaken. Inside are three large, lustrous black seeds. The Mexican buckeye grows along rocky ravines and bluffs above streams in Texas and New Mexico. The tree Molly and I saw on our walk was actually growing on top of a limestone boulder about 30 feet above the San Gabriel. In the spring, the tree has clusters of small, beautiful pink flowers, which eventually give rise to the fruits and seeds.

The seeds of the Mexican buckeye have been found in large numbers among Native American archeological sites, but experts disagree about whether the seeds were eaten, used as psychotropic substances, or worn as ornaments. The seeds contain compounds that are known to be toxic and there are anecdotal reports of people becoming sick and even dying from eating the seeds. However, several botanists claim to eaten eaten the seeds with no ill effects. Regardless of what the botanists say, I don’t recommend trying them!

Reference: Turner, M. W. 2009. Remarkable Plants of Texas: Uncommon Accounts of Our Common Natives. University of Texas Press, Austin.

1 comment:

KaHolly said...

Oh, thank you for this post. I noticed these while camping at Guadalupe River and haven't been able to find out what they are. I came across them again in Panther Canyon in New Braunfels. They certainly are interesting! ~karen