Cooper's box thorn: Lycium cooperi, Solanaceae (nightshade family)
So I've been holding out, waiting for these berries to burst from their protective sheaths, anxiously anticipating the day the color of the shiny green bulbs would ruddy and reveal to me their true species....would they be the luscious red wolf berries (aka goji berries) that I had been naively rooting for, or the hard orange berries that are no where to be found in the context of consumables? Would I be able to offer guests bowls of delicate, delectable berries to cool off a hot summer sunset? Would I be short on space to store all the jams and sauces I would make with these scarlet buttons? Maybe I'd have birds flocking to my shoulders and we'd all be popping berries into our mouths while singing selections from The Sound of Music.
A bit of a crushed fantasy happening in slow motion, I learned that the leaves on my plants aren't succulent-like and plump, as they are in L. Andersonii, the species most commonly associated with edible fruits. My first taste was back in April, and from a box thorn plant with considerably smaller branching arms than the ones I've been eyeing on my property. In May, I noticed vermillion clusters along the mesas that form the entry to Pipes Canyon, and verified that the swathes of color were tiny juicy bites. With June on the horizon, disappointment set in, my bushes still thickly coated in flat paddles-like leaves, the shriveled trumpet flowers clinging to the emerging green fruits. Yesterday in the afternoon heat, the bushes all seemed a warm wash of color, and peeking under a particularly dense branch, my suspicions were confirmed. No, I will not be plucking and processing hoards of plump little morsels from the magical desert terrain. Yes, these are cooper's box thorn bushes, the ones that seem to be absent from the table. But I'll see it as destiny, I'll trade in my greed for gratitude—how many new plants would I have missed if I were wading knee-deep in berry blood?
This is the 30th and final post in the plant-a-day project. The desert is a rich, mystical playground for plants, and I'm happy to have shared my observations and wanderings. This is just the tip of the thorn, there's so much to explore.