Plant of the Week
Range map of lemonscent. Map from USDA PLANTS Database.
Close-up of lemonscent (Pectis angustifolia). Photo by Charlie McDonald.
Lemonscent (Pectis angustifolia)
By Charlie McDonald
“Hey, something around here smells like lemons! I think it’s this little yellow-flowered plant. Crush some of it; the lemony scent is really strong.”
So, the conversation goes when people discover lemonscent for the first time. This plant is actually common throughout much of the western United States and northern Mexico. It is usually inconspicuous, but when summer rains come at just the right time this fast-growing annual can produce mats of yellow in deserts, grasslands, woodlands, and along roadsides.
All of the cinch weeds (the genus Pectis) have oil glands imbedded in the plant tissue and visible with low magnification or the naked eye. The oils in some species have a lemon scent, some have a spicy scent, and some have little or no aroma. The oils probably help deter herbivores, including insects.
The Flagstaff Wild Foraging Project, which is part of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University, reports the Hopi, Zuni, and Havasupai Indians have used that lemonscent as a wild food plant for centuries. Dried and crushed plants can be sprinkled on chicken while cooking, thrown into a stew, added to cornbread or other bread recipes for zest, or added to your favorite tea for a lemony treat.
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Lemonscent flowers being visited by a tiny fly. Photo by Charlie McDonald.
An extreme close-up of lemonscent flower heads showing the oil glands. Photo by Patrick J. Alexander, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.
A patch of lemonscent along a hiking trail in the desert foothills of the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Charlie McDonald.