Facts And Fables

· Ironwood is the second-densest wood in the world, and is notorious for dulling axes and ruining chainsaw blades. It sinks in water. As such, it won't be useful for building your next kayak to enter in the Rillito River Regatta.

· Ironwood is a "nurse plant," or madrina (godmother), for many cacti. Its shady under-story provides a nursery ground for cactus seedlings. However, when the prickly kids grow up, they sometimes starve their nurses of water, slowly killing the very elders who initially offered them protection. (This sounds like the kind of natural world only Woody Allen would invent.)

· The very presence of ironwoods along a bajada slope may increase bird diversity by 63 percent. This is good news for all "Bird-and-Breakfasts" attempting to net the thousands of avid bird-watchers who flock to southern Arizona, but bad news for wildcat developers if one of those birds happens to be the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, a.k.a. the Flying Monkey Wrench of the Sonoran Desert.

· Ironwood grows in the Sonoran Desert region and nowhere else, but its products are now found worldwide. Ironwood is clandestinely cut and mixed with mesquite in Sonora and Baja California, to produce charcoal from air-polluting pits no longer allowed in the U.S. Nevertheless, NAFTA allows most of that charcoal to be imported to the U.S., even though its American consumers don't want the dirty work to be seen from their backyards. Border officials do not even check charcoal bags for the presence of ironwood, even though this species is protected by Mexican law. Once cut, this slow-growing tree is unlikely to regenerate during our lifetimes; it is about as renewable a natural resource as virginity. Think about smoke from a 500-hundred-year-old tree next time you have a "mesquite-flavored" hamburger at Willy's Wild West and Unbridled Hunger Steakhouse.

· The first ironwood carving offered to a tourist was made by Seri Indian José Astorga, who claimed that he was kidnapped by Martians who showed him how to make carvings as a source of cash income to save his people. The Martians dumped José out in the desert under an ironwood tree, where he pruned back dead branches to make his first figurine. Thirty years later, this tree still stands. Since 1975, more imitators make Seri ironwood carvings than do the Seri themselves, even though the tribe now has collective trademark rights to its traditional designs. Buy carvings only from the Seri directly, who know how to sustainably harvest dead branches from trees.

· Historically, a tea made from ironwood bark was drunk by Indian warriors before they went off to do battle. The ironwood drink would make them vomit up all the impurities and toxins in their bodies, which might be something we could offer all military leaders around the world, as a way to reduce the human impurities which lead to battles in the first place.

· Ironwood seeds can be toasted, ground into flour and eaten as a gruel-like pinole. However, they contain some minor anti-nutritional factor which helps them produce great explosive gas for those who love to host Blazing Saddles camp outs.

· Ironwood canopies provide underlings with protection from freezes in winter and damaging solar radiation during the heat of summer. Cut down an ironwood above a cactus, and the cactus will get a sunburn and die. Ironwood canopies break the sun so well that an entire profession emerged from beneath them in the borderlands: the Shade Tree Mechanic. These are the shady characters who, when your car breaks down miles from any city, inform you that you need a Thelman Bushing. They must then back-order the bushing from L.A., but they are willing to rent you a broken-down Airstream without air-conditioning for $100 a night until the part comes in.

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