Leaf of the Day: Texas Ebony

I hope to go down to the gardens 3 days this week to make up for last week’s bad weather days. Things change naturally there but also the gardeners are always busy clearing, replanting, cleaning up and chopping back. I had planned to collect a few more necklace tree pods, but today they were all gone, pruned back to stalks. The tung oil tree last week had 3 or 4 big pods, today they were all on the ground and mostly squashed. Just one week makes such a difference in the plant world. I can’t imagine how many things have sprung up, flowered and gone back to ground without me even noticing.

However one tree I see often near the Arid Garden is the lovely big Texas Ebony which casts a deep shade and has a hopeful seat beneath it, but few, if any, ever take advantage of it. It is another large tree with tiny leaves and like the tea tree oil tree yesterday has similar tiny fluffy scented flowers in the summer.

I had seen some very old pods lying around on the ground for some time, but now there are one or two newer ones and some green ones developing on the tree. Good news for the pod lover here.

The Texas Ebony Pithecellobium flexicaule is a tough drought resistant and handsome tree. The “ebony” name is misleading as the wood tends to be more of a dark mahogany to purple or brown, rather than black. One reason for the lonesome bench is that to get to it, you have to stoop under the branches of the tree which as well as being very dense, are very thorny.
The wood is beautiful, dark and fine grained making it a favourite for woodturners with two colours from the dark heart wood to the golden sapwood.

I do love trees, particularly old trees and often wonder what they have been silent witness to and appropriately there is a famous Teaxas Ebony in Texas at the Los Ebanos (the ebonies) border post which will have seen hopes and dreams on the faces of many passengers crossing the border on the only hand operated ferry across the Rio Grande.

Image and text from the website “Texas Famous Trees” here

“The Los Ebanos ferry is a part of the border that time forgot. Tucked away in the southwestern corner of Hidalgo County this crossing has existed as a popular place to ford the Rio Grande since the days of Spanish colonization. Then like now the summer sound of the cicadas pulsate in the breeze. The hand pulled ferry went into operation in the 1850’s and has seen few improvements since then. The ferry is still tethered by a thick rope tied around the base of a large Texas Ebony tree. And it’s still muscle power that propels the flat bottom barge from Texas to Mexico and back again.
Standing at the southwest corner of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Station, at the southern edge of the little town of Los Ebanos, this immense tree provides tired travelers a shady spot in which to wait the ferry. Around its girth is a one-inch steel cable, which spans the river to hold the ferry.
The history of this crossing is replete with incidents of cattle rustling, smuggling, banditry, and entry of wet-backs. Today an average of about 100 cars pass under this tree each day, carrying shoppers to Los Ebanos or to San Miguel.

And an evocative article describes the ride “Slow Boat Keeps Pace With Times Hand-Drawn Ferry, 21st-Century Security Meet at U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing”
By Sylvia Moreno in the Washington Post 2004 archives here

“The music blaring from the ferry’s little boombox is lively, though nothing new or Latin Grammy Award-winning. Just old accordion-laced rancheras, with their tales of love won, love scorned and sorrow soaked in booze.
The ride is short, about five minutes from shore to shore, with six men pulling the rope attached to the ferry so that it is propelled across the brackish river. The three-vehicle barge is known here as el chalan, and these chalaneros have skin toasted brown and palms callused thick and rough. Most of the ferry passengers are visiting relatives on one or the other side of the Mexican border, carrying goods such as freshly made tortillas into the United States or big boxes of baby cereal into Mexico. Soon droves of “Winter Texans,” who migrate from up north for a few months a year, will be coming to ride the old-fashioned ferry.”

Despite its size, it is still a thoroughly guarded crossing, so any thoughts slipping through unnoticed should be forgotten.

“It’s got to be the most secure port we’ve got,” said Joseph A. Mongiello, port director of the nearby international bridge at Rio Grande City. He oversees the inspection station at the Los Ebanos Ferry.
There are a maximum of three vehicles and a few pedestrians per ferry to inspect, Mongiello said, so “we’ve got all the time to look at them and not worry about causing a traffic backup.”

“Even me, that they know, they still ask me the same questions every day,” says Melba Martinez, 28, who lives in Gustavo Diaz Ordaz and rides the ferry daily to her job at the one store in this hot, dusty hamlet of about 200 people. “They see me every day, and still they ask me where I’m from and where I’m going.”
“I love the ferry, not just because I cross every day, but my mother used to live in Los Ebanos and my father was from Diaz Ordaz, and my mother met my father crossing on the ferry,” she said. “I like to say it’s because of el chalan that I was born.”

According to the Texas Public Radio website from this August, things are still pretty much the same but there is talk of a fence. You can still cross and pull on the ropes to help the chalaneros and re live a little bit of history.. short video too here

These ebony seed pods are not pretty, they are thick and woody but the bright chestnut seeds inside are like little seamed cushions. Nice for beads I am thinking!

Texas Ebony, Leaf and Seed Pod

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  1. It is very interesting and beautiful wood.

  2. I grew up in south Texas where the Ebony tree grows in abundance. I remember as a child actually eating the inside of the ebony pods. The pods were gathered from the tree while the pods were still green but mature (usually about the month of May), placed in a kettle of boiling water until the pods opened. The pods are removed from the kettle and cooled, then when the pods are cool enough to handle, the pods are prodded open and the small seeds are removed. The outer casing of the small seed is a soft white color, easily opened by cutting into it to reveal an interior seed. This inner seed is delicious, it has a nutty taste similiar to a peanut but better. It is so delicious.

    My father told me the pod can also be gathered after the pods have matured and turned black and opened naturally. The inner seeds are hard and black. The seeds can be heated in a dry iron skillet until toasted. A nutcracker needs to be used to open the hard outer casing to reveal the inner seed which can be eaten.

    Hope this is helpful in providing more information about this wonderful tree God has created.

  3. A,.. I am so grateful to you for this information.. I will update the blog this week and hope its ok to publish your very interesting account? Many thanks.Val

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