Dutchman's Breeches  

Thamnosma texana

Polygonaceae


Description

Dutchman's breeches is a perennial weed that is a member of the citrus family. The plant is usually about 6 inches tall with simple, alternate leaves. The flowers vary from canary yellow to purple with a slight yellow center and occur from about May to October. Dutchman's breeches is most easily identified by its strong, aromatic smell when bruised. Its fruit is unique, shaped like inflated Dutchman's breeches with the legs projecting upward. Used medicinally by American Indians of the Southwest, the plant has been eaten as a tonic and used to treat gonorrhea.


Habitat

This plant is distributed widely in gravelly calcareous soils in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. In Texas, it is common in the Rio Grande Plains, southern and western parts of the Edwards Plateau, the Trans-Pecos and southern parts of the Plains.


Toxic Agent

The toxic properties of Dutchman's breeches can be attributed to the presence of psoralens (strong photosensitizing agents) in the plant. Sheep consuming about 1 percent of their body weight of this plant have shown signs of primary photosensitization within 24 to 48 hours. Cattle and goats also have shown primary photosensitization when grazing areas with large amounts of Dutchman's breeches. Humans who get plant sap on their skin suffer severe sunburn in contacted areas.


Signs of Livestock Ingestion

Signs of primary photosensitization include: Increased body temperature; Photophobia (animals avoid sunlight); Edema of the muzzle, ears and vulva; Inflamation and edema of the eye.


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