Hog Plum

29 Aug

Hog Plum

Ximenia americana


Trudging across the burning scrub sands and down into the deep dank swamp yesterday, orange was the new black: day-glo orange fungi in the swampy shadows, pale orange saw palmetto fruits full of prostate pseudo-therapy, orange tail-end on the garden spiders, and orange Hog Plum “plums,” many on the ground.

Garden spider spinning (by John Bradford)

Garden spider spinning (by John Bradford)

Here’s a poorly chosen name, because  “Hog Plum” to other folks refers to edible species of Spondias (and even to additional “plum”-making plants).   Another reference-book name for today’s species is Tallow Wood, but in my narrow world nobody actually seems to call it that.

The oil is abundant in seeds from today’s species and in its cousin the Old World Ximenia caffra, with a history (and future?) of all things oily, such as medicines, lamps, leather treatment, and most prominently cosmetics. Here is a quote from modern promotional blurb, “it contains unsaturated fatty acids and has an exceptional nutritional value to nourish the skin while moisturizing, softening and revitalizing the skin.” The paleo-cosmetic diet! Being as fashion-forward as can be, John and I mashed some and nourished and revitalized our facials.

And if we suffered any discomforts or snake mishaps, we’d have been in a good way. The reported doctor uses would fill a page. Name an ailment: somebody somewhere used Ximenia oil to fix it, from STDs to Cobra bites, hopefully not in the same patient.

The orange ripe fruits, in season now (by John Bradford).

The orange ripe fruits, in season now (by John Bradford).

Even beyond medicine, Hog Plums have more historical uses than you can shake a thorny branch at. Useful parts include the stems, roots, and fruits. The strong wood serves for handles, spears, and assorted kitchen implements. And of course firewood. (I’ll bet that oily wood burns dandy.)

The fruits are food, although mostly pit, not tempting, and impossible to store. Come on now, don’t go eat them. There is a reported laxative consequence.   Gopher Tortoises eat the plums*, with there being at least anecdotal geographic association between Hog Plums and Tortoise nests.   That would be a fun geo-statistical study for a class with apps.   I wonder if hogs like Hog Plums. Monkeys do.

So obviously the fruits are animal-dispersed. But that’s not all.  The fruit pits have spongy flotation material. Their ability to bob safely for months is demonstrated.  Mother Nature conducted the best experiment, floating Ximenia americana all around the tropical world.   Its ethnobotany is richer in Ethiopia than in the Americas.

Hog Plums prefer hot dry habitats, mostly scrub locally, although they also occupy wet mangrovey places, which are “physiologically dry” thanks to salt.  Ximenia is one of many species divided between dry habitats and wet-yet-dry situations.

Hog Plum flowers are white, fuzzy, and fragrant (by John Bradford). This photo not taken yesterday.

Hog Plum flowers are white, fuzzy, and fragrant (by John Bradford). This photo not taken yesterday.

Hog Plums are “facultative” root parasites. Facultative means they can take it or leave it. In a greenhouse they do not need to take it. Hog Plum may have the plant world’s largest known haustoria (suckers) which attach indiscriminately to the roots of neighbors, or to their own roots, or to rocks, or to plastic scraps.   The suckers can be over an inch in diameter.

One final odd feature, apparently a protective adaptation for surviving youth in nasty sands.   As germination proceeds, the first two foliage leaves, instead of unfurling optimistically  to greet the sun, bend straight down.  They tuck snugly into the nook between the cotyledons and stem, terrified like a kid frozen in the car on the first day of school. Perhaps the leaves fear a Gopher Tortoise lumbering out for an oily snack.


*Ever seen Gopher Tortoise scat? They may appreciate a little regularity from that Hog Plum oil.


Posted by on August 29, 2015 in Uncategorized



12 responses to “Hog Plum

  1. Suellen Granberry-Hager

    August 29, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    I burst out laughing at the mental picture I saw of you and John with mashed up Hog Plum fruits smeared on your faces. At least it’s less expensive than my trips to the Clinique counter at Macy’s.

    • George Rogers

      August 29, 2015 at 4:32 pm

      Hey Suellen, Wait til you see that youthful glow!

  2. Annie Hite

    August 29, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    What a treat for me to read your plant adventures/descriptions. I have asked around my gardening circle of friends over the years I’ve lived here (7) about this plant but no one could tell me a name or anything about it. I see it at natural areas in Jupiter frequently and now can greet it as an old friend. Thanks so much.

    • George Rogers

      August 29, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks Annie, I never see it in cultivation, although I’m ware that it has been grown successfully from seeds. Maybe I’ll try–always fun to germinate things in pots. So glad the shrub has become a green friend.

  3. theshrubqueen

    August 29, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    I’m thinking I could use a facial- on my way to the vacant lot to look for Hog Plums (there are actually some hogs back there) I think I majorly misconstrued my ID of this in class, glad to know the fruit is out so I can revisit the Hog Plum. Thanks.

  4. George Rogers

    August 29, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Amelia, now’s the time—those plums are having their moment.

  5. leonorealaniz

    August 30, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    so it is not a plant of the citrus family?

  6. George Rogers

    August 30, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Hi Leonore, No, the Olacaceae is not a family that comes up in daily conversation—although the flowers do look and smell like the
    orange blossom special and the plum resembles a tasty little kumquat. And come to think of it, the thorns sorta say citrus too. Do see where you’re coming from on that. Very nice to hear from you…hope all your printing projects are going strong.

  7. Sally Hart Brodie

    August 31, 2015 at 7:18 am

    I had been at a native plant nursery on Friday looking for gopher apple. They were sold out. I now wish I had seen your blog before I went. Will go back this week and see if I can buy hog plum. Think I have some gopher tortoises and trying to plant ‘food’ for them. Thanks for another great article on the fascinating plants of our area.

  8. Steve

    September 6, 2015 at 7:37 am

    I’ve eaten the fruits to no ill effects, only a couple of them at any given time though. If memory serves me, they kind of smell like “Juicy Fruit” chewing gum. The flowers of this species are wonderfully fragrant. I did not realize that they could germinate from seed without a “host” plant. Word on the street is that it’s cousin in the Olacaceae, Gulf Gray Twig (Shoepfia chyrsophylloides) does not germinate so well without rooting in containers with oaks, do you know whether this is true? Great read, love the ethnobotany.

  9. George Rogers

    September 6, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Steve, inspired by Juicy Fruit, I just took a bite out of one. It needs a little Splenda. I don’t know about the Oaks but makes sense for sure. Never have tried growing either species personally. Long ago in a different connection I was aware of researchers growing HP in pots to check on the need for host roots. I don’t know what Mesozoic Landscapes does to start them.


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