On Wednesday evening, three guests came to my CSUSM Arts and World Culture class: Kumiai elder Teodora Cuero from La Huerta, Kiliwa elder Leonor Farlow from one of the southernmost Kiliwa communities who now lives in Ensendada, and Mike Wilken, an anthropologist who has been working in Baja for almost thirty years.
Both Teodora and Leonor are renowned plant and language specialists.
Teodora became especially animated when she spoke of the bladderpod, Isomeris arborea, a beautiful plant covered with flowers in the winter and spring. They pick large quantities of the beautiful yellow flowers and boil them for four hours. It’s necessary to boil the flowers for that long, she told us, because they’re very bitter. After four hours, the flowers actually get a little sweet.
When they’re ready, she sautés some onion in a frypan, stirs in a bit of flour, then adds the drained flowers. She adds a little salt, then puts the mixture on a fresh handmade tortilla for a bladderpod taco.
“Delicious,” Teodora tells us. “It’s one of the best foods there is.”
Neither Teodora nor Leonor eat the pods, but according to the Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery website, the pods are also edible.
Bladderpod can survive extreme drought conditions once it’s established, an ideal plant for our globally warmed climate.
In addition, the drought tolerant bladderpod is considered a fire retardant plant by the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum’s Fire Retardant Plant Research Project, the California Native Plant Society South Coast Chapter, as well as by other fire safe councils and nurseries. Another great perimeter plant for landscaping, along with the fire retardant prickly pear cactus, for all of us living in the back country.
You can purchase bladderpod at Las Pilitas in Escondido, linked above, or the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.
The bladderpod shrub, a plant magnet for quail, finches, sparrows, and doves, provides cover for ground foragers, shade and seeds. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bumblebees visit the showy yellow flowers for their nectar. The harlequin bug, Murgantia histrionica, an herbivore pictured above, loves the bladderpod as well. The bugs can live their entire life on a bladderpod.
The leaves have been described as smelly, with a disagreeable or unpleasant odor. I prefer to think of them as pungent. The inflated pendulous seedpods, “bladder pods,” hang on the plant for a long time, making it easy to collect the lentil-sized seeds for planting.