Pithecellobium unguis-cati, or cat's-claw, was first introduced to me when I was collecting seeds at Cutting Horse last year. Since then, I have had few interactions with the species but am always delighted to see it when I do. I like to say that plants are my medium as an artist, and this species is one that continues to inspire me and the work that I do.
P. ungis-cati is a medium sized shrub that typically grows 10 to 15 feet in height, but has been documented to grow up to 25 feet in south Florida. It is often found planted along the coast in buffer zones. It is a great option to add in an area of your lawn that has sandy, well-draining soil, or if you have an issue with occasional salt inundation. It cannot tolerate lots of salt spray however, as naturally, the salt spray is blocked by other species closer to shore.
As you can see above, the leaves on cat's-claw are rounded and appear opposite along the stem. This small tree has small white or yellows flowers and blooms year round, with its peak in the summer. The fruit of this species is a legume seed pod that is a vibrant red orange. When the pod becomes ripe, it opens and tends to form a spiral before dropping (this is where my main inspiration comes from). Despite the seed pods opening, they seed don't tend to volunteer. Cat's-claw is a relatively clean plant and makes a great choice for a low maintenance plant in your yard. Make sure to plant it in a sunny space as well, as it likes full sun!
This plant gets its name from the fact that it is almost completely covered in spines. This should be considered when deciding where to place the specimen as well.
Ecologically, Pithecellobium unguis-cati provides food and shelter for wildlife. It is a host plant for many butterflies, including the Cassius blue and the Miami blue, and acts as a nectar plant for other species, like the giant swallowtail. It is likely a nitrogen fixer as well. Overall, cat's-claw has great applications in landscaping and can be used for a variety of different purposes. Check with us in the future to see if we have any seeds available for sale!
By: Maya Frere