Unicorn plant (Proboscidea spp.) is the common name for several species of plants native to the Americas in the genus Proboscidea.
It is most often listed as its own family Martynia, but I have also seen it listed as a member of the Sesame family, perhaps through confusion with the African devil’s claw?
Or perhaps, like many other plants, it’s just been moved around a few times.
Other common names for these plants include devil’s claw, devil’s horn, doubleclaw, cat’s claw, Tiger claw, ram’s horn and i:hug.
Unicorn plant is an attractive plant, low-growing plant with pretty green leaves, heart-shaped or oval and gently lobed and tubular flowers that thrives in the hot, sandy deserts of the Southwest United States and Mexico.
Both annual and perennial species exist. Its unique seed pods give rise to its many common folk names as well as its scientific name. It is a large, woody seed pod with long hooks that catch the feet of animals allowing the seeds to be dispersed.
Species of Unicorn Plant
Proboscidea althaeifolia desert unicorn plant, yellow-flowered devil’s claw – Is a perennial herb that grows in sandy, desert areas of the Southwest United States. The yellow to orange tubular flowers appear in the summer, the leaves are oval, shiny and gently lobed and the tuberous root is yellow.
Proboscidea parviflora doubleclaw, red devil’s claw – Is an annual herb that is native to the sandy desert areas of the Southwestern United States and Mexico. The leaves are dark green and gently lobed and the flower heads produce several tubular flowers in pink or purple with mottling in the throat.
Proboscidea louisianica common devil’s claw, purple-flower devil’s claw, ram’s horn, aphid trap, Louisiana unicorn plant, goat’s head, elephant tusks – Is an annual herb native to the desert Southweast US and Mexico that occurs as an invasive species in Africa and Australia as well.
The tubular flower is cream to pink with an orange or yellow throat and may have purple blotches.
The leaves are coated with tiny hairs that host droplets of essential oil so that the slightest touch releases this plant’s distinct and acrid fragrance- an anecdotal report tells me it is sticky and slimy and unpleasant. The seeds of this plant may be white or black.
Proboscidea sabulosa dune unicorn plant, dune devil’s claw – Is an annual herb native to Mexico, New Mexico and Texas. Its flowers are cream colored with purple mottling.
Growing Unicorn Plant
Unicorn plant does best in zones 7 to 10, though I have seen reports of it volunteering in gardens as far North as Pennsylvania (I do not know which species). I am not sure how well they grow in pots, if you give it a try, please let us know how it works out by commenting below. They can be started indoors and transplanted outdoors and grown as an annual. Indeed most species are annuals so this works out fine.
Unicorn plant needs temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit for good germination. Soak the seeds overnight first and plant in very well-drained soil at a depth of about 1/2 inch. Allow up to 3 weeks for germination.
Unicorn plant can grow to about 3 feet tall and has a sprawling habit.
Unicorn plant can tolerate some shade, but not too much. This is a drought tolerant plant.
You can find seeds here
The Magick of Unicorn Plant
The sturdy, sharp pods can be used to create protective charms. Native American folklore says keeping possession of seed pods with more than two claws will increase the likelihood of twins.
Although there is little information about correspondences available for the Unicorn plant, its toughness, arid habitat and the sharpness of its seed pods says Mars to me and the association with fecundity and holding on to material things, as well as the animal-like appearance of the pods, speaks to me of the element of Earth.
And of course, Unicorn plant is associated with both unicorns and elephants so can be used symbolically to represent anything they represent.
Healing with Unicorn Plant
The unicorn plant yields an oil rich seed that can be pressed to produce an oil that can be used topically. Other health benefits I have seen attributed to this plant seem to be related to confusion with the African devil’s claw plant.
Eating Unicorn Plant
The young fruits of the unicorn plant are edible and can be steamed as a vegetable or pickled but once they are ripe they are too woody to eat. They are reportedly bitter with a texture something like okra, so are good added to stews as a thickener. The protein and oil-rich seeds are also edible.
Other Uses for Unicorn Plant
The tough seed pod can be used for various arts and crafts projects since they are sturdy and very interesting to look at. The dried seed pods are used by the Papago for basket-weaving, creating the black bits of their striking multicolored designs with yucca and beargrass.
The dried horns can be used to create a black dye as well.