Observation 70776: Lichen P. Micheli

When: 1980-01-01

Collection location: Arizona, USA [Click for map]

Who: Danny Newman (myxomop)

No specimen available

Peppered throughout the internet are tales of psychoactive species of saxicolous lichens, though no two are gossiped over quite so much as Jievut Hiawsik — the “Earth Flower” of the Pima and Papago Indian tribes — and an unidentified species from Iceland, which apparently made its popular debut in a 2006 Vice Magazine article (the latter will occupy its own observation). Here are two excerpts from texts on the Pima-Papago lichen, Jievut Hiawsik to be updated with more information as it becomes available.

Common name: Lichen on stones
Pima name: Jievut hiawsik

As no specimens could be procured, I was unable to obtain the botanical identification of lichen. However, I learned that “earth flower” is the translation of both the Pima and the Papago name.

Mary Manuel introduced the subject by saying: “Men know more about this than I. The Pima men gather jievut hiawsik and carry it in their pockets to bring luck in killing game. The Maricopa are too superstitious to do that, for they fear if they carry the plant about too much, it will make them sick.”

This lichen, which has a strong odor, is the color of grey ashes and grows on rocks and dead wood in certain spots on the hills. It has more religious meaning than any other plant, and is smoked, mixed with tobacco, at the summer dances, when its distinctive odor is noticeable. Like marihuana, the smoking of jievut hiawsik “makes young men crazy.” “The Pima believe that if they smoke this lichen they can get any woman they want, but this is just a superstition,” explained George Webb.

Isaac Howard described “earth flower” as being “reddish and white and different colors, and smells like violets.” He says the lichen is ground into a powder which is not bound on sores or cuts, as it would produce blisters, but is sprinkled on the affected parts. Isaac told of a case where a girl, struck by a rattlesnake, was taken to a hospital and the wound was lanced by a doctor. As it did not heal, she returned home and my informant cured the wound by using the above remedy four times at intervals of several days. Another treatment, related by Mary Manuel, is to apply red coals, when the swelling begins, on wounds caused by snakes, scorpions, and black-widow spiders.

Curtin, L.S.M. 1984. Ethnobotany of the Pima (By the Prophet of the Earth). Univ. of Arizona Press. pg 77.

…In a tale of the Pima-Papago tribe of southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico, a cannibal monster is made “crazed, as if drunken” and put to sleep with the use of narcotic cigarettes (Curtis 1908, p. 19). One of the ingredients of these cigarettes was a lichen called jevud hiosig, “earth flower,” which, when mixed with tobacco and smoked, has a dizzying, narcotic effect (Castetter and Underhill 1935, p.27; Castetter and Bell 1942, p 112).

Lenora Curtin’s (1949, pp. 77-78) Piman informants likened the effects of this lichen to that of marihuana and noted that the smoking of this lichen “makes young men crazy.” During ethnobotanical research among the Papago, samples of this lichen were obtained and later identified as Parmelia conspera (Erhart) Ach. Considerable magical potency is attributed to this plant by the Papago-Pima, since it is also used for success in hunting, in gambling, in love, and for disposing of an enemy. Whether these specimens account for the use of lichens with similar properties by the Mohave (Devereux 1949, pp. 111-112) and Kiowa (Vestal and Schultes 1939, p. 12) or whether other lichen genera are involved can not presently be ascertained.

Schultes, R. E., S.V. Reis. 1995. Ethnobotany: The Evolution of a Discipline. Timber Press. p.54

“Mohave (Devereux 1949, pp. 111-112)” refers to:
Devereux, G. 1949; Magic substances and narcotics of the Mohave Indians. Brit. J. Med. Psychology. 22;110-116

“Kiowa (Vestal and Schultes 1939, p. 12)” refers to:
Vestal, Paul A. and Richard Evans Schultes. 1939. The Economic Botany of the Kiowa Indians. Botanical Museum of Harvard University. Cambridge, MA.

(Castetter and Underhill 1935, p. 27) refers to:
Castetter, E.F., and R.M. Underhill. 1935. The Ethnobiology of the Papago Indians. University of New Mexico Bulletin 275, biological series, vol. 4, no. 3.

(Castetter and Bell 1942, p. 112) refers to:
Castetter, E.F., and W.H. Bell. 1942. Pima and Papago Indian Agriculture. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

I’ll try to get these on ILL and post any pertinent info here.

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Add Comment
By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2014-01-07 17:36:24 MST (-0700)

What a detailed and fascinating comment. I’m surprised it took me this long to read it. Reports like this, while interesting, will always remain just out of reach when the subject is an insufficiently documented plant/fungus/animal used by a disappearing culture. If anyone out there is still researching this sort of thing, I should think your points and considerations would be very valuable.

By: Jason Hollinger (jason)
2011-08-22 11:07:29 MST (-0700)

The chemistry of Xanthoparmelia conspersa is not especially unique. In fact, given the state of Xanthoparmelia taxonomy when these ethobotanical reports were made, the actual species could be any of several: I think all isidiate broad-lobed species were lumped back then. So it could well be X. mexicana, X. amableana, X. plittii, etc. (I see 20 species matching this basic description in the Sonoran Flora.)

All contain usnic acid (a common “sunblock” used by a very broad selection of lichen genera and species) in the cortex. Most contain some stictic acid and related substances and/or salazinic acid – also very common substances in a wide range of lichens – in the medulla. But for the most part, lichenologists only know about substances that show up in TLC, so there could well be additional things.

The report that it grows on both rock and (more rarely) dead wood is very typical of Xanthoparmelia, but I’ve observed that most saxicolous lichens will grow on very weathered old dead wood if given a chance.

I’ve never noticed a strong odor with any desert saxicolous crusts, but then again, I don’t make a habit of grinding up lichens and smoking them! (The only lichens whose odor I’ve noticed are a group of cyanolichens, particularly some Sticta, which smell like fish in excessively damp locations — when decomposing?)

I’m not sure what the description “reddish and white and different colors” might mean. Many lichens will discolor when they die, particularly Parmelia s. str., for example, which will often turn reddish and whitish. I personally suspect the reddish color comes from salazinic acid, which turns very dark red in KOH, so I figure as it breaks down and the salazinic acid is exposed to the environment it might change color if bird droppings or other products of decomposition induce the same color change. Unfortunately, in Arizona (i.e., the desert), Xanthoparmelia just sort of desiccates and turns brown or bleaches out in my experience.

By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2011-08-21 23:02:38 MST (-0700)

have accompanied any of the accounts/descriptions of this species.

By: Paul Derbyshire (Twizzler)
2011-08-20 00:11:21 MST (-0700)