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Catclaw’s Many Lives

The prickly plant’s pollen is used to make light honey, and a coarse meal made from its seeds was once a staple in Native American foods.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Brush against a catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii), and — ow! — you’ll find out why this native shrub deserves its name. Along its slender branches are backward-curving spines that look — and snag — just like a cat’s claws. As you’re untangling yourself from its clutches, you may even holler another of the plant’s common names: “Wait-a-minute!”

Often found on dry mesas, along canyons and in gullies, catclaw grows in dense thickets that provide safe habitat and nesting sites for wildlife and birds. Scaled quail eat the seeds while jackrabbits and cattle dine on young catclaw leaves when other food is scarce.

Humans know how to put catclaw to epicurean use, too. Native Americans once ground the legumes into coarse meal called pinole, from which they made mush and cakes. Catclaw flowers — which bloom April through May in fragrant, creamy-yellow clusters — attract bees and other insects. Beekeepers in Uvalde County produce light-colored honey from catclaw and other acacia species.

A scale insect known as a lac (Tachardia lacca) feeds on catclaw sap and secretes a sticky substance that’s used to make shellac. In Texas, lac bug numbers aren’t abundant enough to make lacquer production viable. Besides, who wants to get clawed in the process of harvesting branches?

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