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Desert Diary


Look close at any complex endeavor, and you'll find a specialized vocabulary necessary for communication within the field. Of course, this tends to leave out the non-specialist, who often is left muttering about jargon. Jargon or not, it's necessary for precise communication if not overdone.

You or I might be perfectly happy to note that a particular plant has a pod. A botanist needs to be more exact. Our desert teems with members of the pea family, such as mesquites. Technically, their pods are legumes--a dry fruit derived from a simple female part that opens at maturity on two sides. On the other hand, the pod of a milkweed plant is a follicle. Follicles are similar to legumes but differ by splitting open only on one side. Now this doesn't seem like anything to get excited about, but it happens that differences like these often are important in identification of unfamiliar plants and also may imply genetic relationships. A philosopher once said of men that by their fruits shall you know them. This goes double for plants!
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

assorted legumes

A selection of legumes. Counterclockwise from the left, immature pod of Golden Ball Leadtree, mature legume of Honey Mesquite, a pod of Fairy Duster that has opened and released its seeds, and the legume of Texas Laurel (this one containing only one seed; often more are present). Scanned specimens by A.H. Harris. rule