Hikers from Arizona, California, and south to Mexico and Baja may be familiar with these finely haired pods clinging to their socks. These come from the Palmer's grappling-hook plant (Harpagonella palmeri), which is considered rare in the United States. What is Palmer's grappling-hook? This wild, native flora lives in gravel or sand slopes in creosote bush communities. It is very tiny and may be hard to notice, but once it gets its hooks in you, it can be hard to shake off.
What is Palmer's Grappling Hook?
The arid inhospitable desert regions of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico are home to very adaptable plant and animal species. These organisms must be able to withstand searing heat, long drought periods, freezing night temperatures, and low nutrient food sources. Palmer's grappling-hook is native to the desert and coastal sand areas of California and Arizona as well as Baja and Sonora in Mexico. Other members of its plant community are chaparral, mesquite, creosote bush, and coastal scrub. There are only very small populations remaining in these regions. This annual plant must reseed itself yearly and new plants are produced after spring rains. They are found in warm Mediterranean climates to hot, dry desert and even in balmy oceanic shores. Several species of animals and birds feast on the nutlets produced by the plant, so it is an important part of the ecology.
Identifying Palmer's Grappling-Hook
Grappling-hook plant grows just 12 inches (31 cm.) tall. The stems and leaves are herbaceous and may be erect or spreading. The leaves are lance-shaped and roll under at the edges. Both leaves and stems are covered in fine white hooked hairs, of which the name derives. Small, white flowers are borne on the leaf axils in February to April. These become hairy, green fruit. The fruits are covered by arched sepals which are stiff and covered in snagging bristles. Inside each fruit are two distinct nutlets, oval and covered in the hooked hair. Animals, birds, and even your socks distribute the seeds to new locations for future germination.
Growing Palmer's Grappling Hook Plant
Palmer's grappling-hook info indicates the plant is on the California Native Plant Society's list of threatened plants, so do not harvest plants from the wilderness. Selecting a couple of seeds to take home or checking your socks after a hike are the most acceptable ways to acquire seed. Since the plant grows in rocky to sandy soil, a gritty mixture should be used to start plants at home. Sow on the surface of the soil and sprinkle a light dusting of sand on top. Moisten the container or flat and keep the medium lightly moist. Germination time is undetermined. Once your plant has two true leaves, transplant to a larger container to grow on.
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Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.
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