Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Leather Root

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Leather Root
Scientific Name:Hoita macrostachya
Family:Fabaceae (Legume)
Plant Type:Perennial
Size:up to 15 feet
Habitat:Chaparral, wetland riparian
Blooms:June to September
Fire Response:Germinate from Seed

Leather root - Hoita macrostachya is a Native, Perennial Herb that you will find only at the edge of a creek or stream. Tall (up to 2.5 meters - taller than most people) and sprawling (appears like a shrub), with a head of cone-shaped purple pea flowers. With leaves of three, folding towards the central vein, rounded on one end and pointed at the other, this plant is fairly easy to identify. Each time I came across this plant it was as I crossed a creek and found myself being lured in by the beautiful flowers. There are not that many plants that fit all of these clues!

Leather Root has hollow stems emerging from a large woody caudex (woody part of the plant that survives year to year) and an extensive root system that has as its primary mission the ability to find water and tap into it. This plant dies back to the ground after the dispersal of seeds. Blooming in the Summer months produces a legume like pod with one kidney shaped seed.

Leather root can and was used for a variety of reasons: eating, as a textile, creating a dye and making a poultice. Cordage is made from the inner bark of the stem that can be used like sewing thread. A tough fibre can be made from the root. Strong and durable, it is used to make ropes and bags - the plant is known as Leather Root or California Hemp for a reason! A Yellow dye can be made from the roots. The leaves were eaten as “greens”. Pulverizing the roots yielded a topical ointment (salve or poultice) for wounds. A perfume can also made.

Name Origin:Link to - the best source of this information

Hoita is a name for "Psoralea" in the ConCow (or KonKow) Maidu language spoken by a Native American people of the Feather River region (Butte County, California)

macrosta'chya: from macro, "large," and stachys, "an ear of grain," referring to the spikes of the inflorescence

Leather Root - Originally featured: February 2018
Last modified: July 18 2020 13:19:58.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves