Blooming in my garden right now is yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica) a member of the very unique Lizard Tail Family (Saururaceae). This unusual plant family has only seven species in it, grouped into four genera, and yerba mansa is so unique, it is the only species in the genus.
Yerba mansa is showy when in bloom in spring. Similar to the sunflower family, what appears to be a single bloom is a dense cluster of individually small flowers borne in an inflorescence. The yerba mansa inflorescence is conical and has five to ten large white bracts beneath it, so that along with the tiny white florets, the whole structure is quite striking when it blooms in spring. The conical structure develops into a tough capsule that can be carried downstream to spread the tiny, pepper-like seeds.
Planting and Care.
A lovely garden plant, yerba mansa does not appear in xeriscape books because it requires consistently moist soil and does not tolerate drying out between waterings. But by definition a xeriscape should include an oasis area, and this is often a water garden – the perfect spot for yerba mansa.
Plants have clusters of broad, leathery leaves. The three to four inch long leaves are a bluish green with a pale colored, thick broad midrib. That said, the plant produces long runners bearing new leaves and roots all along the nodes. This structure will float just below the surface in a water garden, and rosettes of small young plants seem perfectly content to grow just below the water surface. If they get too large they sink too deep for sufficient sunlight and air, and thus their size is curtailed.
Just pot one of the little plantlets into a container with potting soil and place the lowest one inch of the pot into your water garden. Viola! All done planting.
Cooler autumn weather can bring blotches of maroon to the leaves and stems. If the temperatures are cool but not freezing, the entire plant may turn color. If the temperature falls below 20 F, the leaves die. Not to worry, the plant readily comes back from the roots. The plant is considered hardy to USDA Zone 5.
In our area the plant is gaining popularity and can now be found in a number of nurseries that carry water garden plants.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
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About the name: Yerba mansa is one of those names which confounds linguists. Yerba is Spanish for herb, and thus one would think that “mansa” is also from Spanish as well, but all indications point to the fact that it is not. “Mansa” means calm or tranquil in Spanish, and the plant has no sedative effect, nor did local people ever use it as a calming agent. Its primary use is as an antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal. The most likely case is that “mansa” is a Spanish alteration of the original native word for the plant, now lost in the depths of time. Similar name change can be seen with the O’odham name “Cuk Son,” meaning “at the base of the black hill,” which got changed to the Spanish Tucsón, and now the English “Tucson.”