Poodle Dog Bush (Turricula parryi)

Poodle Dog Bush (Turricula parryi)

Turricula parryi, Poodle-dog bush or Common turricula, is the only species currently classified in the genus Turricula, within the waterleaf subfamily, Hydrophylloideae. It is endemic to California and Baja California, and can be found from the southern Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley southwards to Baja California.

It is found in chaparral, on slopes and ridges from 100 to 2300 meters. Its seeds can remain dormant in soil for long periods, with the plant springing up quickly when the soil is disturbed or after a wildfire. It is very common in areas burned by wildfires in the mountains of Southern California.

It grows into a moderate size, perennial woody shrub, branching from the base but with main stems extending for up to 3 meters. Is leaves are long and narrow, and may be toothed at the edge; they can be from 4 to 30 cm long. It flowers from June to August, having clusters (cymes) of attractive bell-shaped blue, lavender or purple flowers. However it has a rank smell. Its flower clusters and hairy stem are similar to those of many plants in the genus Phacelia, but it can be distinguished from them by its greater height.

When first described by Asa Gray, the poodle-dog bush was placed within genus Eriodictyon. It was subsequently moved to a genus of its own, and molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term “subfamily”) that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon.

Like many species in the forget-me-not family, Poodle-dog bush causes severe irritation if touched, akin to poison oak or stinging nettle. It can raise blisters lasting as long as two weeks. This contact dermatitis is due to prenylated phenolics exuded by hairs (glandular trichomes) of the plant. The principal irritants are derivatives of farnesyl hydroquinone and 3-farnesyl-P-hydroxybenzoic acid.

Presumably because of its irritant properties, poodle-dog bush is rarely grown in gardens despite its attractive flowers, and it is difficult to grow in garden conditions. Native Americans used it medicinally: Kawaiisu people used an infusion of the leaves to relieve swellings or rheumatism,  it has also been reported that the Luiseño people (who knew it as Atovikut) used it medicinally. No clinical trials have been undertaken to support the efficacy of Turricula for these clinical conditions, and there is no reliable evidence that it can be used for any type of treatment.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.