The Confused Javelina Bush

6 Dec

Javelina Bush, Little Buckthorn, Abrojo, Tecomblate
Condalia ericoides (Microrhamnus ericoides)

Javelina Bush with fruit drupes.

A common shrub that grows throughout the shrub lands of the arid SW Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, it is most commonly known as ‘Javelina Bush’. However, like most other plants, it has several common names, and ‘javelina bush’ can be associated with one other shrub of a completely different species and two others of a different genus. For this reason, amongst others, learning the Latin taxonomical name can often prevent confusion. So when someone asks you about a ‘javelina bush’, you can help identify the plant in question by referring to the Latin name along with a brief description of the plant.

Many people have asked me, “Why is it called that?” I could answer honestly and simply reply, “I have no idea.” But that’s rather uncreative. I have searched for an authoritative answer to that question, but found no reference to explanations for any of its names (except ‘Little Buckthorn’, but I’ll get back to that shortly).  In fact, very limited information is available for most of the species of this genus of spiny plants. So I made up my own story about the name. Ending it with the confession that I made it up.

Many plants have names based on animals, insects or reptiles. Consider the following: ‘snakeweed’, ‘goat bush’, ‘foxglove’, ‘bee balm’, and ‘lizard tail’. These are all plants, and some plant names are redundant. But the javelina, being such an odd animal which few people other than desert dwellers are familiar with, needed a plant named after it. The musty-smelling pig-like Javelinas, also called ‘peccary’ (see how names can be confusing?), have bristly bodies with a tail which resembles a bristle brush. Now, if you look closely at the branch of a javelina bush, you will notice small stiff leaves that radiate from the central stem, unlike many shrubs whose leaves have long petioles on stems that extend from main branches. The javelina bush, like the javelina animal, is very compact and bristly. Consequently, the javelina named this genus and species after themselves!

Then I smile and tell them that I really don’t know how this shrub assumed its common name, but it was a good story, right?

Apparently, taxonomists are also confused about its Latin name.  According to taxonomic data with the ITIS, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, this shrub has two names: Microrhamnus ericoides and Condalia ericoides. If asking the real Javelina Bush to stand up, both might rise up to the call. On the other hand, most of the recent literature on this species uses C. ericoides rather than M. ericoides. Deeper investigation revealed that the original collector, Asa Gray, annotated and registered the taxonomic name Microrhamnus ericoides in 1852. Botanist Marshall C. Johnston, author of The Vascular Plants of Texas, and botanist at the Texas Plant Resources Center (Texas A&M), reclassified the plant as Condalia ericoides in 1961. Thus, any individual, professional or layperson, might see this poor confused shrub under two different genus names (species name remains consistent), and associated with two or more common names.

So a rose may be a rose. But this poor spiny and bristly shrub is terribly confused. When in doubt, ask a javelina.

Javelina Bush.

Plants of this genus are in the Buckthorn family. The genus name, Condalia, originates with an 18th Spanish physician, Antonio Condal. And the species name ericoides refers to the bush’s small, heath-like leaves. These photographs were taken November 15 on the Terlingua Ranch in Southern Brewster County, Texas.

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One Response to “The Confused Javelina Bush”

  1. Mary S. Black August 5, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    So that’s what it is! There are so many desert plants I don’t know. Thanks for the post.

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