Schoenocaulon…a Taste of the (Very) Old West

15 Aug


Schoenocaulon dubium

Melanthiaceae (Liliaceae)

Schoenocaulon (Richard Brownscomb)

Schoenocaulon (Richard Brownscomb)

A combination of back-to-school and family activities has George out of the woods for a week or two, but John had a productive field trip to Jonathan Dickinson State Park this week, and photographed an intriguing species pointed out there by Steve Woodmansee and a photograph by Richard Brownscomb.  Excusing my absence, John gave me permission to add commentary to the photos of Schoenocaulon dubium, a species limited to Florida.

The timing is perfect,  as last week’s topic was plants moved around by pre-Europeans.  Our Florida Schoenocaulon may or may not have experienced that, but in Mexico pre-European movement of at least two Schoenocaulon species is likely as natural pesticides and medications, especially the widespread Schoenocaulon officinale, better known as sabadilla.  As a member of the Horticulture Dept. at Palm Beach State College I work in a context of interest in natural-botanical pest control, not that all natural products are safe!  Sabadilla is a well known old (pre-European after all) pesticide marketed to this day.  CLICK

Schoenocaulon is at heart a Mexican genus with just a couple toes north of the border.  There are 20-some species in Mexico. Two of those extend into Texas and (one of these) into New Mexico, and we have Schoenocaulon dubium all alone here in Florida.

The Florida-Mexico floristic connection would be interesting to study.   Prominent in that study would be the local curiosity “Poor Man’s Patch,” Mentzelia floridana, which fuses with the fabric of your pants if you walk through; it resembles our Schoenocaulon as the isolated Florida representative of the primarily Mesoamerican genus Mentzelia.  Then come those “native” Agaves.  The connections extend to fauna too, as there was once a continuous biological corridor extending from Mexico around the Gulf to scrubby Florida.  The continuity broke apart about a million years ago.

Mentzelia far from its Mexican home (GR)

Mentzelia far from its Mexican home (GR)

Mentzelia, Poor Man's Patch, melts right into fabric.

Mentzelia, Poor Man’s Patch, melts right into fabric.

Schoenocaulon is an apparent wisp of that old Mexican connection.  DNA study shows our S. dubium to have as its closest relative S. texanum, the species in Texas and New Mexico, suggesting a stepwise Florida arrival from Mexico then Texas.  (The second species in Texas is not closely related to the S. texanum/S. dubium pair.)

(Readers interested in exploring the Texas-Mexico link with respect to Schoenocaulon and with examples from other genera might enjoy this article and references cited in it:  CLICK.   See esp. p. 1188.)

It might be tough to envision Schoenocaulon as a “Lily,” but it is more or less in a broad definition of the Lily Family.  (The Lily Family is variably split into multiple smaller families, including the Melanthiaceae.)  Look at any Lily flower and at Schoenocaulon and see a signature pattern” of 6  “petals” (tepals), no sepals, six stamens, and a pistil with three lobes, although, in a technical sense they are not “true” lilies.

Schoenocaulon is one of several Liliaceous genera with long vertical wands holding small flowers sitting directly on the wand.    Production of natural insecticides and toxins seems widespread in the wand-bearing lilies, given such Halloween names as “Colic Root,”  “Death Camas,” “Flypoison,” and “Crowpoison.”

Schoenocaulon up close showing Lily characteristics (JB)

Schoenocaulon up close showing Lily characteristics (JB)


Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Feathershank


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6 responses to “Schoenocaulon…a Taste of the (Very) Old West

  1. Katherine Edison

    August 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    I’m a new reader and I wanted to say how much I love your photos and information. The close up of the Schoenocaulon is spectacular!

    • George Rogers

      August 15, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      Thanks much.

  2. Laure Hristov

    August 15, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    That is a real beauty! Thanks for sharing the amazing pictures and information.

    • George Rogers

      August 16, 2013 at 8:19 am

      Thanks Laure

  3. Mary Hart

    August 16, 2013 at 3:31 am

    Interesting to note that Sabadilla, used as a “natural” pesticide, can be harmful to honeybees, they are under threat from so many things.

  4. George Rogers

    August 16, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Yes, absolutely. You might hope that “normal garden usage” might not intersect with the floral visitors, but I don’t really know.


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