Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
3 ratings

Tuesday - November 19, 2013

From: Bastrop, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: General Botany, Plant Identification
Title: Which one is huajillo and which one is guajillo?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Recently I attended a field trip to the Leonard Garden at the Kleberg Institute in Kingsville. I took a picture of a tree that was referred to as Tenaza or huajillo. Later I took another photo of a Thornless Catclaw which was referred to a guajillo. They both looked liked acacias to me. According to your database, huajillo is an alternative name for both of these trees. However, guajillo is only attached to the Thornless catclaw. So, I'm confused. Would you please enlighten me? I know, I should use the scientific names, but.. Thanks, Judy

ANSWER:

This is the problem with common names.  The same common name may refer to one plant in one place or to one person; but, in another place or to another person, it will mean a completely different plant.  Here's a "for instance"—in our Native Plant Database try searching for "frostweed".  The search results in 8 plants with 8 different species names.  The one we know in Central Texas as "frostweed", Verbesina virginica (Frostweed), is not only a different species than the other seven, but it is in a different genus, as well.  There are many more examples of one common name used for several different species of plants.  That is why it is always best to use the botanical name if you are referring to a particular species of plant.  

You have already noticed the confusion between which plant is guajillo, huajillo, or huajilla.

In our Native Plant Database Acacia berlandieri (Guajillo) is also called Berlandier acacia, Thornless Catclaw, Mimosa Catclaw, Round-flowered Catclaw, Huajillla and Matoral.  It is in the Genus Acacia, i.e., it is an acacia.   USDA Plants Database gives the common name as 'guajillo'.  Texas A&M Aggie Horticulture calls it 'guajillo' or 'huajilla'.

In our Native Plant Database Havardia pallens (Tenaza) is also called Huajillo and Ape's ear-ring.  Its botanical synonym (what it was formerly known as) is Pithecellobium pallens.  You can see more synonyms and more taxonomic information on the USDA ARS-GRIN page.  It is in the Genus Havardia so it isn't an acacia; however, it does look a lot like the Acacia berlandieri.  The two plants are both in the Family Fabaceae (Pea Family) but the botanical taxonomists have seen a difference in the two that they considered significant enough to separate them into two different genera.  USDA Plants Database gives the common name as 'huajillo'.  Texas A&M Aggie Horticulture calls it 'guajilla' or 'huajillo'.

In the Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas by D. S. Correll and M. C. Johnston (1970, Texas Research Foundation), the key separates the two species by this characteristic: 

  • Acacia berlandieri:  "Stamens are free to the top of the floral cup or nearly so".  The common name is listed as 'Guajillo'. 
  • Pithecellobium pallens (or Havardia pallens):  "Stamens united above the floral cup forming a tube 2-5 mm. long."  The common name is listed as 'Tenaza'.

Obviously, there are other differences.  See, for instance, the differences between the two by comparing their characteristics as listed on the Texas A&M Aggie Horticulture pages referred to above.

Just to make things worse, Robert A. Vines in his book, Trees, Shrubs and Wood Vines of the Southwest.  (1960, University of Texas Press) says that, as well as Acacia berlandieri, Acacia angustissima (Prairie acacia) is also called 'guajillo' and 'huajilla'; Acacia greggii (Catclaw acacia) is called 'huajilla'; and Havardia pallens (known in his book by the synonym, Pithecellobium pallens) is called 'huajillo' and 'guajilla'.

Guajillo, guajilla, huajillo and huajilla appear to be variations in spelling.  I checked several Spanish dictionaries for a translation for any of these words but found none.   I tried on the Internet and the only ones I found were for a guajillo (guajilla) chile or a reference to one of the trees/shrubs, usually Acacia berlandieri.

At this point, you may be sorry you ever asked the question. The takeaway is, however, that the assignment of common names to plants (or animals, for that matter) is not controlled; so, you may get several different unrelated plants bearing the same common name—or, one species of plant with several common names.   The botanical names are controlled.   They do occasionally change but you can usually find the trail of the change and know fairly well what plant you mean by using its botanical name.

 

More General Botany Questions

Define monoculture from St. Croix Falls, WI
May 30, 2014 - What do you call a dense stand or carpet of one species of wildflower? Our botany professor told us but that was 40 years ago!
view the full question and answer

Is Esperanza a deciduous or an evergreen plant?
March 08, 2009 - I've read that Esperanza/Tecoma Stans is an evergreen. I planted one last year that seemed very healthy, but it dropped its leaves in late fall and looks (at least) dormant now. Will it come back o...
view the full question and answer

20 years to bloom
May 02, 2007 - My girlfriend and i have come up with an interesting question, we were wondering if there is a plant in existance that takes over 20 years to bloom, and how many different kinds (if any) there are? We...
view the full question and answer

Forestiera pubescens blooming in July
August 07, 2012 - I have a lot of what appears to be Forestiera pubescens. They are covered with the dark blue/black berries and flowers. Apparently they are blooming again in the middle of July. I live about 35 mile...
view the full question and answer

Percentage of worlds flowers of each color
July 14, 2007 - What percentage of the world's flowers are blue? red? white? yellow?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.