Chlorogalum pomeridianum

diana chapman
Sun, 29 Jun 2003 13:04:06 PDT
Dear Mary Sue:

I have to add my two cents' worth, since I am very fond of this plant.  It
has been described as "coarse"!!!  I simply can't understand this.  The
rosette of glaucous wavy leaves is very attractive, and in the foothills of
the Sierra, where it commonly grows in oak savannah, it can reach a height
of six or seven feet.  The sight of many acres of their tall feathery plumes
in bloom in the evening among the drying grasses under scattered oak trees
is truly delightful.  I have some of the other species, all of which are
much shorter and therefore less striking.

As Mary Sue noted it was (and still is) a very important plant for Native
Americans.  Aside from its use as soap, it is also a treatment for poison
oak.  The abundant coarse fiber that protects the shallowly-rooted bulbs
from drying is used by Native Americans to make beautiful brushes; the fiber
making the brush and the cooked bulb itself used to coat the handle of the
brush.  The cooked paste dries to an almost plastic-like coating, although
it takes many coatings to make a finished brush.  The brushes have many
uses, but the main one is to brush acorn meal from baskets or from the
mortar where they have been ground.  I have made some myself, but they don't
look as lovely as the ones I have that were made by experienced Indian
artisans.  One ethnobotany book I have says they were cooked and eaten, but
this was rarely so since the bulb contains saponins - not very palatable.
They could be used in times of famine, though, but took long slow baking to
break down the soapy chemicals.

This is a very common bulb in northern California, since it is not grazed by
cattle, and therefore has survived better than many of the other native
bulbs.  It is one of those bulbs that one learns to appreciate more with
long association.

Telos Rare Bulbs

More information about the pbs mailing list