Purshia mexicana - Rose Family (Rosaceae)
A blooming Cliffrose shrub is often covered with many flowers that fill the air with their sweet-smelling perfume. A wide assortment of bees and flies are attracted to these sweet smells and the nectar the flowers produce.
Cliffrose are most often found between 3,500 and 8,000 feet in the Rockies, the Southwest, the Great Basin regions and into Mexico.
Cliffrose grow in pinyon-juniper woodlands and shrublands, often in dry rocky soils.
Cliffrose is a many-branched shrub that grows up to 8 feet tall. In some excellent growing locations the shrubs can reach 20 feet high. In older shrubs, the bark splits into long, fine segments. Leaves are tiny, 1/8- to 5/8 inches long, and are mostly 5-lobed. The leaves are covered with tiny, glandular-dotted hairs that are sticky to the touch.
Flowers are whitish in color and are 1/2 to 1 inch wide. The five petals surround many yellow stamens. A mature seed has a long-tailed hair that attaches to it. These hairs act like tiny parachutes and aid the wind in both dispersing the seeds and helping "drill" the seeds into the ground. Once the seed lands in the soil, the wind blows the curved hair that acts like a drill, rotating with the wind to push the seed into the soil.
Flowering Cliffrose bloom from midspring until summer, and then if summer rains are plentiful, the plants may bloom again in the late summer.
The name Cliffrose comes from the fact that this member of the rose family is often seen growing growing in rocky or cliff. The scientific name, Purshia mexicana, is for Frederick T. Pursh (1774-1820), who authored one of the earliest floral books of North America, and for the plant's distribution, which ranges southwest into Mexico.
Many native cultures used Cliffrose for a variety of purposes. The Navajo used the shredded bark for padding cradleboards and forming "pillows" for their infants. "Female" prayersticks are made from Cliffrose wood, while "male" prayersticks are made from mountain mahogany shrubs. The thin, straight branches were used for making arrows, and a yellow brown or tan dye was made from the leaves and stems, when mixed with pounded juniper branches.
The Hopi made a tea from the leaves and twigs to induce vomiting, and as a healing agent for sores and wounds. Early inhabitants of the Four Corners region also used the shredded bark of Cliffrose to make mats and clothing; when added to yucca fibers they made cordage.
Some early settlers called the plant "quinine bush" after the bitter taste of the leaves. Deer and desert bighorns forage on the plants and small rodents eat the seeds.
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