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Desert Diary


In common talk, pairs of things that look alike are called twins. We're all familiar with human twins, and many of us know of twins occurring among various kinds of animals. But twins, of a sort, also occur among our desert plants and even help us identify them. The plants I have in mind are the menodoras, members of the olive family. Not, mind you, that individual plants look alike. Rather, the flowers produce two identical fruits that lie side by side within a single cradle of fingerlike projection ascending from beneath.

The most showy of our northern desert species is named, aptly for once, Showy Menodora. Its flower consists of a tube 1 to 2 inches long that abruptly flares into separated petals at the end. This short, yellow-flowered shrub is easily recognized even by the novice, not only because of the flower, but by reason of its hallmark twin fruits. A close relative, also yellow- flowered, is Rough Menodora. It lacks the long flower tube, but careful observation reveals its true self as a menodora—the telltail twins.
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.

fruit of Showy Menodora

The twinned fruits of Showy Menodora (Menodora longiflora. Photograph © Wynn Anderson.