Pima Ratany

The Pima ratany, which is also known as the littleleaf ratany or the range ratany, is a semi-parasitic plant, a relatively rare phenomenon in San Bernardino County. The Pima ratany derives some, though not all, of its nutritional requirements from another living plant. Though it freeloads on other plants, it can itself be exploited by humans, and has several uses.
The Pima ratany, of the Krameriaceae family, is a perennial shrub or subshrub, and inhabits the desert and upland areas of Southern California and Arizona. It features flowers of a brilliant magenta pink, which bloom in the spring, summer and fall. The Pima ratany will grow to about two feet tall.
The flowers have five petal-like, oval, magenta sepals and five tiny petals. The sepals are cupped forward and the distinctive bottom sepal is cupped and curled upwards. There are three upper petals and two lateral, glandular petals. The nutlike fruits are rounded and covered in fuzzy, white hair and reddish spines that are covered with tiny barbs. The leaves are alternate, small, green, hairy, and linear. The stems are branched and sprawl at the base.
The Pima ratany is a hemiparasite, that is, it is a partial root parasite of nearby plants. Like all parasitic plants, the Pima ratany has an organ, called a haustorium, which connects to the conductive system of nearby host plant to extract water and nutrients. In the case of the Pima ratany, its haustorium connects to the root of its host. The plants it is most likely to steal from are the trangleaf bursage and the creosote bush. The biological action of ratany is caused by the astringent rhataniatannic acid, which is similar to tannic acid.
The Pima ratany is not wholly dependent upon parasitizing the roots of other plants, as it photosynthesizes on its own.
Another rare quality of the Pima ratany is that its flowers have glands called elaiophores, which produce a lipid, i.e., oil, which is offered to their bee pollinators in lieu of nectar. Bees of the genus Centris, sometimes known as oil bees, acquire nectar from other plants, but also are attracted to the ratany’s oil, which they combine with pollen to feed their larvae.
Rhatany is also the name given to krameria root, and a botanical remedy consisting of the dried root is prepared. Infusions have been used as a gargle, as a local hemostatic and remedy for diarrhea. The dried root has been mixed with cocaine to make lozenges. When finely powdered, the dried roots have been a main ingredient in tooth powders. The powdered roots contain a virtually insoluble free red substance called ratanhia red, which is used as a dye. In Portugal, ratanhia red is used to color wines ruby red.

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