a-plant-a-day-5

Paperbag bush (bladder sage): Scutellaria mexicana (formerly Salazaria mexicana), Lamiaceae (mint family)

This one has been on my question list for a while. A few weeks ago, bilateral purple and white flowers formed along ashy green stems whose arms were very squarely arranged opposite one another. It kind of looked like a bad drawing of a plant, since branches tend to split off in a little less uniform manner, a haphazard elegance; but this plant had stick-figure straight arms and not many leaves. I thought it was a member of the pea family, because it had this legume-like overall appearance, and spent a long time convincing myself it was one of the millions of milkvetch. This afternoon, I clipped another stem, brought it home, and started the same search for the 8th or 9th time, which makes one feel a little like they may be loosing their mind. Why would today prove anything different?

I turned to my favorite reference book, Flowers and Shrubs of the Mojave Desert, which is organized by flower color, and has no photographs, only wonderful illustrations done by Brian Wignall and succinct text by Janice Emily Bowers, describing over 100 common plants. I've scoured the rest of my bookshelf, but there aren't any ethnobotanical mentionings for this one, so this is a pretty dry entry—although a pretty one, which explains why I have so many photographs. (I know, each image should show something we don't already see or know about the plant...I'm so over art-school politics.) 

Now, some data: paperbag bush is a member of the mint family, and if you look closely, it bears the tell-tale square stem; it does not, however, carry the more easily recognized trademark of scent, so commonly wafting from other sages. When I started tracking this plant, the flowers were opening from a small dark node, which weeks later has literally ballooned into a bell-shape, semi-translucent enclosure. Delicate and a faint rose-purple color, these pods are beginning to line the stems where the purple and white flowers that are now beginning to die, once blossomed. Inside the mature, inflated pods, which are the plants namesake, are four small nutlets, arranged in a quadrant. Looking forward to monitoring the entire life-cycle of this one—I imagine that once all the flowers have withered, the proliferation of pods will be one of those unworldly, desert sights in a couple weeks.