Proboscidea louisianica - (P. Mill.) Thellung
Louisiana Unicorn-plant
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Proboscidea louisianica (P. Mill.) Thellung (TSN 504614)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.148688
Element Code: PDPED06030
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Other flowering plants
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Scrophulariales Pedaliaceae Proboscidea
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Proboscidea louisianica
Taxonomic Comments: Native in eastern U.S. s. to northern Mexico; cultivated and occasionally escaped elsewhere (cf. Scoggan, Flora of Canada).

Proboscidea louisianica has two recognized subspecies: subsp. fragrans (synonyms: Martynia fragrans, Proboscidea fragrans), found in the U.S. and Mexico, with U.S. occurrences limited to Texas and Massachusetts; and subsp. louisianica (synonym: Martynia louisianica), comprising the remainder of U.S. occurrences (Kartesz 1999, USDA-NRCS 1999).

Although Kartesz (1999), following Cronquist's classification, merges the Martyniaceae with the Pedaliaceae, some authors believe there are good reasons to maintain the distinctness of these families (e.g., Weakley 1997).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: GU
Global Status Last Reviewed: 21Jan2000
Global Status Last Changed: 31Jan2000
Rounded Global Status: GU - Unrankable
Reasons: Apparently native to Mexico (where reported from several states) and the southwestern United States, and widely established as an exotic elsewhere in the U.S. and in southern Canada. Very little information exists on occurrences of either subspecies in its native habitat. In addition, the native range, particularly of subspecies louisianica, is highly uncertain. As a ruderal, opportunistic species, this plant is well-adapted to disturbance and has colonized many areas that have been greatly altered by human activities. It is possible, and perhaps likely that this species has become somewhat rare in its native setting, since many natural disturbance regimes that have taken place historically are no longer in place. Partial tracking of this species is recommended in order to find high quality occurrences in its native habitat.
Nation: United States
National Status: NU
Nation: Canada
National Status: NNA (29Oct2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (SNR), Arkansas (SNR), California (SNA), Colorado (SNR), Connecticut (SNA), Delaware (SNA), District of Columbia (SNR), Florida (SNR), Georgia (SNA), Idaho (SNR), Illinois (SNA), Indiana (SX), Iowa (SNA), Kansas (SNR), Kentucky (SNR), Louisiana (SNR), Maine (SNR), Maryland (SNR), Massachusetts (SNR), Michigan (SNR), Minnesota (SNR), Mississippi (SNR), Missouri (SNR), Nebraska (SNR), Nevada (SNR), New Hampshire (SNR), New Jersey (SNR), New Mexico (SNR), New York (SNR), North Carolina (SNA), Ohio (SNR), Oklahoma (SNR), Pennsylvania (SNA), Rhode Island (SNR), South Carolina (SNR), South Dakota (SNR), Tennessee (SNR), Texas (SNR), Vermont (SNR), Virginia (SNA), Washington (SNR), West Virginia (SNA), Wyoming (SNA)
Canada Ontario (SNA), Saskatchewan (SNA)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Proboscidea louisianica is found in Mexico, and (native or exotic) within a large majority of continental U.S. states (the few exceptions being Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Oregon, and Utah) (USDA-NRCS 1999). In Canada, Proboscidea louisianica is considered exotic and has been documented in Ontario, and possibly in Saskatchewan.

Subspecies fragrans is found in Texas and Massachusetts (Kartesz 1999), is found frequently in the Mexican states of Hidalgo, Jalisco, M?xico, Michoacßn, Quer?taro, San Luis Potos?, and Zacatecas, and is scarce in Veracruz (Taylor 1983). Populations intermediate between subsp. fragrans and subsp. louisianica can be found in Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo and north to Kansas (Taylor 1983).

In spite of the relatively large contemporary range of subspecies louisianica, many suggest that the plant is introduced in their area. Most authors are not highly specific regarding the natural range of this subspecies. Gleason and Cronquist (1963) state that it is native to the southwestern U.S. and may be native as far north as Indiana, but that further north and in the southern states it is probably escaped. Small (1933), on the other hand, states that the plant is native to the Mississippi River valley.

Other reports include: native to the southern U.S. and Mexico (Great Plains Flora Association 1986); perhaps native to the south-central U.S. (Hickman 1993); introduced in Colorado (Weber and Wittmann 1996a); and alien near Chicago (Swink and Wilhelm 1994). It is present but considered to be naturalized in New Hampshire (New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory).

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Widespread in the central and southern United States, but natural distribution unclear. Texas: widespread across the northern half of Texas, hundreds or thousands of populations (Texas Conservation Data Center); Kansas: common throughout the western half of the state (Kansas Natural Features Inventory); Kentucky: occasional (Kentucky Natural Heritage Program); Illinois: weedy in the southern part of the state (Illinois Natural Heritage Database Program); Missouri: uncommon (Missouri Department of Conservation); Indiana: not documented as a wild plant for over 100 years-state rank should be SH or SE (Indiana Natural Heritage Data Center); Arkansas: known from nine counties, not tracked (Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission); Michigan: relatively uncommon weed last collected in 1960-should probably be ranked SE (Michigan Natural Features Inventory); Ontario: not native, should be ranked SE (Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre); Mississippi: uncommon, ranked SE (Mississippi Natural Heritage Program); Georgia: ranked SE (Georgia Natural Heritage Program); Nebraska: exotic (Nebraska Natural Heritage Program); Wyoming: exotic, known from two collections (Wyoming Natural Diversity Database); Colorado: exotic, most common in southeast, but never abundant (Weber and Wittmann 1996b); Nevada: occurs in far southern Nevada, possibly as an introduction (Nevada Natural Heritage Program). Species reported from New York, Idaho, South Dakota, and Maine by Kartesz (1999), but not known to the respective Heritage Programs (New York Natural Heritage Program, Idaho Conservation Data Center, South Dakota Natural Heritage Database, or Maine Natural Areas Program).

Because Proboscidea louisianica is an annual, populations discovered one year may have disappeared one to a few years later. Also, with a reported habitat mainly of disturbed areas, an occurrence of this species may be lost as time passes, as the habitat becomes further removed from a one-time disturbance event.

Population Size Comments: Proboscidea louisianica is an annual with a single taproot, which may have multiple stems (Great Plains Flora Association 1986). The most consistent counting unit is probably the individual (i.e., one taproot).

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Open, disturbed ground might be more common, or perhaps more frequent on the landscape, than it was prior to Euro-American settlement. Given the habitats reported for Proboscidea louisianica, it is conceivable that its habitat is not threatened in the least. However, it is possible that the specific substrate or chemical properties of Proboscidea louisianica's habitat are not yet known, such that what may now appear to be a landscape advantage of disturbance will eventually be seen more clearly as a threatening situation for this species.

Individual occurrences of this species may, by their very nature, be threatened, as once-disturbed areas tend to change significantly unless the disturbance is repeated. For a more accurate assessment of the threats to this species, its native habitat and natural disturbance regime must be determined, and threats to those native habitats assessed.

A person knowledgeable about the herbal medicinal industry is not aware of commercial trade in this species in the U.S. (McGuffin pers. comm.).

Short-term Trend Comments: The species appears to be spreading. Given its affinity for waste ground and its widespread use in gardens, this is quite logical. Increasingly, the North American landscape contains ecologically damaged lands which may have unusual soil chemistries favored by various weedy species.

Even though Proboscidea louisianica may have spread far beyond its original range in North America, it is not clear whether it has simultaneously increased in abundance within its presumed original range in the southern U.S. and Mexico. Furthermore, it is unclear whether there is a significant difference in habitat or distributional changes between the two subspecies of Proboscidea louisianica. It is possible if not likely that this species has become somewhat rare in its native setting, since many natural disturbance regimes that have taken place historically are no longer in place.

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Shows preference for waste places.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: Proboscidea louisianica is found in Mexico, and (native or exotic) within a large majority of continental U.S. states (the few exceptions being Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Oregon, and Utah) (USDA-NRCS 1999). In Canada, Proboscidea louisianica is considered exotic and has been documented in Ontario, and possibly in Saskatchewan.

Subspecies fragrans is found in Texas and Massachusetts (Kartesz 1999), is found frequently in the Mexican states of Hidalgo, Jalisco, M?xico, Michoacßn, Quer?taro, San Luis Potos?, and Zacatecas, and is scarce in Veracruz (Taylor 1983). Populations intermediate between subsp. fragrans and subsp. louisianica can be found in Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo and north to Kansas (Taylor 1983).

In spite of the relatively large contemporary range of subspecies louisianica, many suggest that the plant is introduced in their area. Most authors are not highly specific regarding the natural range of this subspecies. Gleason and Cronquist (1963) state that it is native to the southwestern U.S. and may be native as far north as Indiana, but that further north and in the southern states it is probably escaped. Small (1933), on the other hand, states that the plant is native to the Mississippi River valley.

Other reports include: native to the southern U.S. and Mexico (Great Plains Flora Association 1986); perhaps native to the south-central U.S. (Hickman 1993); introduced in Colorado (Weber and Wittmann 1996a); and alien near Chicago (Swink and Wilhelm 1994). It is present but considered to be naturalized in New Hampshire (New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The distribution shown may be incomplete, particularly for some rapidly spreading exotic species.

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, CAexotic, CO, CTexotic, DC, DEexotic, FL, GAexotic, IAexotic, ID, ILexotic, INextirpated, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NCexotic, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, PAexotic, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VAexotic, VT, WA, WVexotic, WYexotic
Canada ONexotic, SKexotic

Range Map
No map available.

Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: Proboscidea louisianica is a strong-smelling, large, sprawling herb with a large, claw-shaped fruit, which grows in North American pastures and waste lots (Great Plains Flora Association 1986).
Ecology Comments: A weed of pastures, cultivated fields, and disturbed areas such as feed lots (Texas Conservation Data Center, Kansas Natural Features Inventory, Kentucky Natural Heritage Program, Illinois Natural Heritage Database Program, Missouri Department of Conservation, Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Mississippi Natural Heritage Program).
Habitat Comments: The only native habitat referenced is riverbanks (Fernald and Kinsey 1943, Small 1933). There are many references to the ability of this plant to exploit human-disturbed areas. The plant grows most often in sandy soils, in open areas such as pastures, agricultural fields (Texas Conservation Data Center, Kansas Natural Features Inventory, Mississippi Natural Heritage Program), waste places (i.e., very disturbed areas) (Kentucky Natural Heritage Program, Missouri Department of Conservation), and cattle feedlots (Great Plains Flora Association 1986, Weber and Wittmann 1996b, Hickman 1993, Illinois Natural Heritage Database Program). In Mexico, Taylor (1983) considers the habitat to be ruderal and edges of agricultural fields.
Economic Attributes
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Economically Important Genus: Y
Economic Uses: FOOD
Production Method: Cultivated
Economic Comments: No records of medicinal uses for this plant have been located, but it has been cultivated for its fruit, which can be eaten like a pickle (Fernald and Kinsey 1943). Taylor (1983) reports that in Mexico, immature fruits are eaten, mature seeds are consumed raw, and children collect the fruits for their strange appearance.
Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Habitat descriptions contain enough flexibility that it is difficult to surmise exactly what habitats may either encourage or restrict the presence of Proboscidea louisianica. Because open, disturbed areas may be found throughout North America, it may be that populations of this species are merely separated by wetness, tree cover, ecologically healthy or semi-healthy established natural communities, or intensively cultivated and landscaped zones (crop fields, parking lots, lawns, etc.). Also, because it is annual, Proboscidea louisianica populations may also be merely separated by chance deposition of seeds.


Date: 21Jan2000
Author: Spackman, S.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 21Jan2000
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Susan Spackman, David Anderson, and Steve Thomas (1/00); rev. Eric Nielsen (1/00)

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Fernald, M.L. and A.C. Kinsey. 1958. Edible wild plants of eastern North America. Harper and Row. NY. NY.

  • Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1402 pp.

  • Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. University of Kansas Press, Lawrence. 1392 pp.

  • Hickman, J. C., ed. 1993. The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. 1400 pp.

  • Hickman, J.C. 1993. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press: Berkeley and L.A., CA.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Montgomery, F.H. 1948. Introduced plants of Waterloo and adjacent counties, Ontario.  Canadian Field-Naturalist 62(2): 79-95.

  • Montgomery, F.H. 1957. The introduced plants of Ontario growing outside of cultivation (Part II). Transactions of the Royal Canadian Institute, No. 66, Vol. XXXII, Part 1. 35 pp.

  • Small, J.K. 1933. Manual of the southeastern flora. Two volumes. Hafner Publishing Company, New York.

  • Swink, F., and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region. Morton Arboretum. Lisle, Illinois.

  • Taylor, K.R. 1983. Martyniaceae. In: Gomez Pompa, A. (ed.) Flora de Veracruz (The flora of Veracruz). Instituto de Investigaciones sobre Recursos Bioticos, A. C., Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 1999. November 3-last update. The PLANTS database. Online. Available: http://plants.usda.gov/plants. Accessed 2000-Jan.

  • Voss, E. G., and A. A. Reznicek. 2012. Field Manual of Michigan Flora. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 990 pp.

  • Weakley, A.S. 1997. Flora of the Carolinas and Virginia: working draft of 21 July 1997. The Nature Conservancy, Southeast Regional Office, Southern Conservation Science Dept., Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

  • Weber, W.A., and R.C. Wittmann. 1996b. Colorado flora: Western slope. Univ. Press of Colorado, Niwot, Colorado. 496 pp.

  • Weber, William A. and Ronald C. Wittmann. 1996. Colorado Flora: Eastern Slope.

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