It might be early in the season to spot the trademark yellow blooms of the retama, but with some added insights, you may have a new appreciation for this showy Texas native.
Adaptable to most soil conditions, thriving in the heat, and tolerating drought make Parkinsonia aculeata a perfect Texan. Growing beyond 10-20 feet tall and on occasion 40 feet, it is a green barked member of the legume family. In spring, about this time of year, you will begin to spot the unfolding of its brooms, slender stems with tiny leaflets, followed by cascades of yellow blooms, which then give way to narrow seed pods in late summer and fall.
Retama can be single-stemmed or multi-trunked, and those long, thin leaves will cast only a bit of dappled shade during the blazing hot Texas summers. It is a fast-growing, rugged tree that comes equipped with self-protection in the sharp needle-like thorns placed along with the twigs and old trunks.
A great friend to wildlife, retama offers nesting or cover benefits to insects, granivorous birds, and small mammals. The foliage and pods can serve as emergency forage for livestock and wildlife. Bees produce fragrant honey from the flowers.
Aside from its graceful beauty, the fact that this tree can grow in very harsh conditions and serve as a soil stabilizer to prevent erosion has caught my interest. There is often a close correlation between the type of soil a tree thrives in and what medicinal support it may offer a human body. I discovered that decoctions of the leaf, fruit, and stem are sometimes prepared and taken orally and applied externally. Flower and leaf extractions in alcohol are known to have been used as a poultice to treat rheumatism and taken internally to address general inflammatory conditions, fever, and malaria. Interesting to note is that it has been introduced and naturalized in India for its medicinal benefits.
Written by Lauren Hubele, a member of SMGA’s Outreach Committee. She is an author and educator whose practice provides a framework for resolving chronic and acute conditions using gemmotherapy, homeopathy, and a plant-based diet.