Thursday, March 15, 2007

Watermelon Rind and Cat's Urine?

Ok, I made a mistake. Those early blooming shrubs that I mentioned a couple of posts ago were NOT Hazelnuts. About an hour ago, I saw one of these shrubs at the edge of the woods across the street from me. I saw immediately upon examination that they were not the catkins typical of Hazelnuts but were a dangling cluster of white flowers. I took a photo and then immediately went back to see if I could identify this bush. I have seen it for years since in early March it is the very first plant in the forest understory to leaf forth and produce flowers.
Apparently it is the Indian Plum (Oemieria cerasiformis) which in the fall produces blue black fruits about a cm in diameter. Small plum, huh? It is described as being one of the first plants to flower in the Spring. The flowers are described as being similiar to watermelon rind and cat urine in fragrance. The leaves smell like cucumbers. Ok, hold on I'll be back.

I just went out and confirmed that the leaves and blossoms definitely have a cucumber/watermelon rind smell and there is also an unpleasant hint of musk. Ok, I guess this really is Oemieria cerasiformis until I find out differently. The Indians of the Northwestern U.S. used the bark to make an astringent tea with purgative qualities. Tasting the twig I find it quite bitter. Apparently the native people also chewed the twigs and applied it to sore places. It seems that any plant that tastes bitter or nasty is often used in some sort of medicinal way...strange. Here is a very good article from a grower and seller of the plant who says that the fruit might have cyanide in it! Interestingly he always says that another name for it is Skunkbush. :)

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