What's for Dinner?

agarita berry, mequite tree, sotol plant, cactus
To gather food from these dangerous-looking plants, Indians had to bypass the thorns of the agarita bush, the woody thorns of the mesquite trees, the spikey tips of the lechuguilla plant, and the prickly pads of cactus.

A Thorny Subject

drawing of woman digging a spikey plant
A sharpened wooden stake was used to cut the long tap root and dig out plants such as the spiky agave. (Click to enlarge.)

man tending agave fields
Underneath the gigantic spikes of this domesticated agave plant there is a fleshy, white, edible stalk that, after being cooked, provides food for several days. (Click to enlarge.)
lechuguilla plant
Yikes! How do you get close to this prickly monster? There's a lot of useful food and fiber in this sotol plant. (Click to enlarge.)

Prehistoric Indians knew that getting food from some plants took lots of skill. Some of the best foods were from spiky, prickly, or thorny plants. For instance, mesquite pods have to be picked from trees with wicked thorns. Blackberries grow on long thorny vines. And prickly pear cactus—well, it's very prickly! But the pads and fruits, called tunas, can be delicious.

Cactus tuna
Both the prickly leaf pads and fruits of the prickly pear cactus are edible. (Click to enlarge.)

Some of the most unexpected food sources are fibrous plants with big bulbs or roots such as sotol, lechuguilla, yucca, and agave. Tackling these plants meant dodging knife-like leaves with sharp pointed tips, a sometimes painful chore. Spanish explorers traveling across the Texas Plains tangled with these menacing plants. It's no wonder that one variety of these plants is now called Spanish Dagger!

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