Cochise County Plants: The Mexican Buckthorn, Condalia Warnockii Kearneyana

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It’s definitely in Cochise County, and I think it’s a Condalia warnockii kearneyana. Mexican buckthorn entries online, including photographs, seem to fit the numerous plants of this type we have growing on our “back 40”, one mile north of the Mexican border.

There is, however, one worrisome detail: The thorns on the plants in our area are a brilliant red color at the tips, as if they’d been freshly dipped in blood. Photos on other sites show none of that coloration–so if you happen to be a horticulturist or plant expert or simply a knowledgeable desert rat, let me know if I’m wrong. There just aren’t that many pictures of these plants you can Google unless you happen to be a search keyword wizard.

For now, we’re going with the Mexican buckthorn, also known as the Mexican crucillo (meaning “cross”) or, sometimes, frujillo.

The thorns definitely qualify as cross-like.

Red-tipped thorns on a Mexican buckthorn, Condalia warnockii kearneyana, in Cochise County, Arizona.

Red-tipped thorns on a Mexican buckthorn, Condalia warnockii kearneyana, in Cochise County, Arizona.

This plant is also apparently known as Kearney’s snakewood, but don’t ask me why. I don’t have a clue.

What we do know is that this species seems to thrive “out back”, mostly off by itself in the desert with few other plants in close contact. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between…and mostly dead. Whether or not the Mexican buckthorn is capable of killing off its competition, who knows?

At a distance, these sturdy bushes–most of them running to heights of eight feet or so–could be mistaken for certain wide-spreading junipers. Up close, they’re nothing like the evergreens.

They have narrow, trough shaped, obviously deciduous leaves. We’ve yet to see one of these buckthorns look winter naked and leafless, but our southern Arizona winters are not exactly harsh by Eskimo standards. They’re apparently capable of “pretending” to be evergreens in that they “never go naked”, at least on this acreage.

At a distance, the Mexican buckthorn could almost be mistaken for a spreading sort of juniper, but Condalia warnockii kearneyana is definitely no evergreen.

At a distance, the Mexican buckthorn could almost be mistaken for a spreading sort of juniper, but Condalia warnockii kearneyana is definitely no evergreen.

Strangely enough, this bush aka tree (take your pick) is so densely foliaged that despite having paid a bit of attention to an individual here and there over the past four and a half years, I didn’t realize the plant produced either thorns or berries until (Ahem!) today.

There’s nothing like a bit of camera work to help a fellow focus his attention.

There aren’t a whole lot of berries left on the buckthorns at this time of year, and they’re extremely tiny (the berries, not the overall buckthorns). One berry is roughly the size of a carpenter ant’s head, easy to overlook as they’re pretty much invisible to my eyes, even with glasses on, unless I’m within a few feet of the tree.

Naturally, the berries shown in the next photos are much larger than life size. Most of them are red, but some have aged enough to turn black.

Mexican buckthorn berries, red phase.

Mexican buckthorn berries, red phase.

At least one Mexican buckthorn berry still shows some green, but the curve of the wood is what caught the photographer's eye for this picture.

At least one Mexican buckthorn berry still shows some green, but the curve of the wood is what caught the photographer’s eye for this picture.

Mexican buckthorn berries in green, red, and black phases.

Mexican buckthorn berries in green, red, and black phases.

This picture contains buckthorn berries in all of the above colors...plus orange.  You may need a magnifying glass to spot them all, though.

This picture contains buckthorn berries in all of the above colors…plus orange. You may need a magnifying glass to spot them all, though.

Curiously enough, that last photo also makes it obvious that this individual Mexican buckthorn tree is getting into the late autumn mood and has indeed lost a lot of its summer leaves. The odd thing is that the naked eye didn’t pick that up at all.

Truthfully, it seems I need a camera just to make me aware of my surroundings as they are, not as I “expect” to see them!

Another detail brought out by the camera: Parasites. Well…they may not be parasites, but the cream colored “webby-cocoon-looking-stuff” hanging out high in various Mexican buckthorn trees reminded me uncomfortably of the horribly damaging tent caterpillars that used to invade our favorite choke cherry tree stands in Montana.

The only way to deal with those tent caterpillars was to burn ’em out.

These web-cocoons aren’t that overwhelming. It looks likely the trees will survive their most likely unwelcome guests. But I would like to know what sort of bug makes those “bug houses” so I could at least flip them the bird.

Cream colored web-cocoon structures abound in the higher reaches of the Mexican buckthorn trees.  What sort of creature does that?  And will it end up damaging or killing the trees?

Cream colored web-cocoon structures abound in the higher reaches of the Mexican buckthorn trees. What sort of creature does that? And will it end up damaging or killing the trees?

Close up of the web-cocoon mass found in many (if not all) of the Mexican buckthorn trees on our property.

Close up of the web-cocoon mass found in many (if not all) of the Mexican buckthorn trees on our property.

And…one last look at those glorious Mexican buckthorn thorns, bloody red tips and all.

Mexican buckthorn with its red-tipped thorns on glorious display.

Mexican buckthorn with its red-tipped thorns on glorious display.

8 thoughts on “Cochise County Plants: The Mexican Buckthorn, Condalia Warnockii Kearneyana

  1. These are in the same family as the ones that were used to make the ‘crown of thorns’ for Jesus at his crucifixion. Dennis was telling me about the ones he found out in the desert in Imperial County, CA. Those thorns are awesome, aren’t they? And to think that this type was forced down on a man’s head, puncturing into his forehead. It makes you think.

  2. I was wondering about that. Some of the research I found mentioned the crown of thorns, enough to make me think those thorns (from Jesus’s time) were, as you say, from the same family. There are apparently something like 150 species of these. Not all of them have thorns, but most of them do.

    Man’s inhumanity to man often makes me think. And yes, those thorns are definitely awesome. What blows my mind (a little bit, at least) is the fact that I “inspected” some of these bushes any number of times and never even noticed the thorns at all.

    Tunnel vision much, Ghost? 🙂

  3. Dennis was in Jerusalem during the 7-Day war, guarding the tomb at the request of the Israeli Government. When it was over, the guys doing the guarding were given a special little tour of some of the highlights of the area. One of the things they were shown were some bushes of the type the thorns were gotten from. They are very similar to the ones on the bushes that he found out in the desert in Imperial County.

  4. Wow. I’ll have to tell Pam about that one. Not Imperial County so much, but Dennis guarding the tomb. She may be “only” half Jewish, but she’s all pro-Israel, as am I.

  5. Haha, he didn’t even know what he was guarding. He was asked to guard this cave. He asked what it was after he got done, and they looked at him funny and told him that it was the tomb. He had no idea, he just made sure that no damage was done to it. That is where he got one of those head injuries that the Army does not claim. He was on the plane over there and bumped his head on a bomb when the plane hit an air bump.

  6. Ow!

    My Dad had one of those, only it was to his back. He was in the Navy, working one day, when a packing crate edge-slammed into his lower back. He was 19 or 20 when that happened, lived and worked with the injury until the disc ruptured at age 38, almost 39. The VA fused his back for him, but he never got any disability out of it–nor did he for his mental state. He was pretty messed up, came out of the service on a mental release, major problems after his ship was sunk in the Pacific. That’s one thing he never talked about, except to tell me that it took 6 men to put him on the ground for a tranquilizer shot in Australia before they flew him back to the VA in Sacramento. I’m guessing he could well have ended up in the water and seen some of his shipmates eaten by sharks before it was all said and done.

    He had a bit of the trauma we saw in our beloved Dusty, though in the end he seemed to work it out better. Reckon it helps when you’ve still got all your limbs.

    Ah! Just remembered. Believe I saw Dusty in a dream this morning. First time ever. If it was him, he looked good, still a full beard but younger, brown-not-gray. Don’t believe he remembered me, though. Could be he’s already signed up for a “new mind”, had his war memories somewhat erased, along with others he didn’t particularly need.

    He was panning for gold.

  7. Unfortunately, they did not pay for mental trauma back when your dad got out of the military. The Vietnam veterans fought hard to get that one. They didn’t start paying until the ’80’s, and even then it wasn’t easy to get. Dennis fought to get his for 18 years. One man we know, jumped up on the desk of the VA rep that he was arguing with and peed on his desk. When he got out of jail, his disability had finally been rushed through. They did not treat them with respect.
    I hope that was Dusty in your dream. He deserves a bit of peace, even though we still miss him.
    Dennis had several different head injuries, including one when he got his nose shot off with shrapnel. They don’t claim that one either, even though they flew him to Japan to have a Kevlar piece put in as the cartilage. They say that happened at another time. Hopefully when he dies, he dies of something that they claim. Then I will get about twice as much as if he has a seizure and it kills him. Not wanting him to die, you understand, but I do deserve enough to live on.That is one of the reasons we would like to buy a house and get it paid for as quick as we can. Then I have a better chance of getting by on what I will get.

  8. Yeah, I knew about the Vietnam vets fighting for the mental trauma recognition. Peeing on the guy’s desk sounds like a great way to go (pun intended).

    I agree; Dusty does deserve a bit of peace. He certainly didn’t get much of that while he was here.

    I remember you mentioning the Kevlar in Dennis’s nose, and I totally understand your wanting to get a house paid for ASAP.

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