Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the April 3, 2011 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

If you take an acacia or mimosa tree, remove its prickles and make it herbaceous instead of woody, you'll have a Desmanthus. Our local Desmanthus, the shoulder-tall DESMANTHUS VIRGATUS, now is producing clusters of fruit-legumes that look like very slender, reddish fingers on very scrawny hands, as shown above.

Desmanthus's feathery, twice-compound leaves bear ant-attracting glands on their petioles, as shown below:

DESMANTHUS VIRGATUS, gland on leaf petiole

Desmanthus is another of those unpretentious little plants that when you first meet it you suspect of general mediocrity, but when you Google it, it turns out to be an international super-star. For, this waist-tall, herbaceous perennial shrub that's native from Texas and Florida south through nearly all of tropical America now is planted throughout the world's tropics as a valuable forage plant for grazing livestock.

Entire Desmanthus plants are palatable to grazing ruminants, and the leaves contain over 20% crude protein. Once an animal eats it back, it produces new sprouts so readily that it's regarded as one of the most tolerant of all forage legumes to heavy grazing. After a fire it readily regrows from its crown. Also, it thrives in a wide variety of soils and climatic conditions.