The Sacred Datura

The Sacred Datura, (Jimson Weed), Purple Sand Verbena and the occasional pale, yellow, Desert Dandelions, are all that is left of the Anza Borrego Desert super bloom this past spring. The sacred datura holds out until the very end to bloom because it depends on the Hawkmoths to pollinate it. The Hawk-moths don’t become moths until they survive the caterpillar stage. The caterpillar stage is fraught with many dangers. The flower is a large and striking trumpet shape that opens up in the early evening to attract the moths. They are a brilliant white that glow in the dark and have a lovely, sweet fragrance that is irresistible to this specific pollinator. The moths look like hummingbirds in flight because they are so large and hover over the flower to lick up the nectar much like hummingbirds. These caterpillars and other kinds, were all over our backyard during the spring bloom and because they didn’t understand the dangers of a swimming pool, many of them met an untimely death that way. It was traumatic to watch them fall into the pool and drown. The ones that did manage to cross the yard unharmed, were able to mow down every wildflower in its path. The cycle of life is a journey and a trip to observe. After the caterpillars come the Swainson’s Hawks to finish off the job.

The entire plant is highly poisonous and if ingested by humans, can cause a high fever, delirium and possibly death. In spite of this horrible reputation, every part of the plant is almost universally used as a hallucinogenic and medicinal plant among the native Indians of the southwest. The Seri brewed tea to relieve sore throats, Cahuilla shamans ingested it to transcend reality in order to contact specific guardian spirits, and the Hopi medicine men chewed the roots to induce visions when making a diagnosis on someone who was ill. 

The desert is returning to a hot and arid environment. Because of the cool inland breezes colliding with the hotter temperatures of the desert, the winds have returned making life miserable for most of its inhabitants. We still see the occasional jackrabbit and cottontail, quail, and coyote but the roadrunners seem to be in their glory. Everywhere you look, you might see a roadrunner with a snake or lizard in its long and lethal beak, careening down the street. They always look right to left and side to side when they run and are very comical to watch. They must be pretty street savvy though, because you never see one hit by a car and dead by the side of the road. 

As the summer makes itself known, I am constantly sweeping sand out of the house and trying to be appreciative that it isn’t a snow drift. The sand is everywhere and the dust and pollen are making Callie and me sneeze and Callie has become asthmatic. Soon we will be packing up to head out on our road trip and will leave the desert to its desert inhabitants. We don’t belong here during the summer, and I will tip my hat off to those that have to stay. We stayed last summer with temperatures reaching 124 degrees Fahrenheit, and I refuse to do it again this summer. This summer will be all about travels with Callie….

One of the many varieties of caterpillars that made it to become a moth

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