Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Joseph Wood Krutch and the Boogum Tree

The boogum tree is one of the oddest trees on the planet and is found mainly in Baja California. Following are some comments by Joseph Wood Krutch about the boogum.

"One finds the boogum wild only in Lower California. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I should not believe it, for it is far more improbable looking as a tree than the giraffe is as an animal. Whether it was christened by some admirer of Lewis Carroll or whether some accident of convergence is responsible for the fact that even the gravest botanical treatises call it by a name which occurs elsewhere only in The Hunting of the Snark, I do not know. In any event, the name is gloriously appropriate because the boogum tree looks far more like something out of Alice or the Snark than like any real tree.

Speaking of the strawberry, Dr. William Butler, a worthy who was one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, made the sage remark, 'Doubtless God could have made a better berry but doubtless God never did.' Doubtless he could have also made a queerer tree than the boogum, but if He did I have never heard of it.

What one sees when one undertakes to contemplate it is an inverted, green-backed cone, six or eight feet high and with the proportions of a carrot. The general effect is rather like a huge taproot that has for some reason grown up into the air instead of down into the earth. From this cone scattered twigs a few inches long project foolishly in all directions. At some seasons a few futile leaves dangle from these twigs, though they were bare when I saw them. Only another Lewis Carroll word will do to describe it; like the borogoves in Alice, it is "mimsy"--which, as Humpty-Dumpty explains, means both flimsy and miserable.

So inelegant a solution of a problem is seldom achieved or at least seldom persisted in by Nature, who may not be infallible but who has buried most of her mistakes in geologic time, where this one ought to have been forgotten along with some of the equally inadvisable animals who had their regrettable day. The essayist Charles D. Stewart once analyzed the orthodox tree "as an invention," but he did not mention this one which, so far from being a credit to the inventor, looks like one of those unbelievable triumphs of no ingenuity exhibited by the patent office in hopes of raising a smile. To see three of these vegetable monstrosities together--and three together I have seen, one like a chunky carrot, the other two foolishly elongated--is to suspect that some of nature's journeymen had made trees and not made them well, they imitated an organism so abominably. If the time ever comes when the desert no longer seems to me at all strange, I know how I shall remind myself that it is. I shall imagine a mouse-that-never-drinks [the kangaroo rat] resting in the conical shade of a boogum tree."

Joseph Wood Krutch
from Baja California and the Geography of Hope

I have seen a boogum tree. It was shortly after I arrived in Tucson to attend the University of Arizona. I was walking about the campus and came across a small desert garden with several types of cacti and mesquite trees. There was also some thing else there which I knew had to be a boogum. I had never seen one before, but I had read a description of the tree. Nothing else would dare look like that.


  1. Fred,

    Thanks for writing about this tree. I had never heard of it before. I can always count on your blog for learning something new. That's why I come here.

  2. Cheryl,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Listed below is a link to numerous photos of the boogum (as Krutch spells it) or boojum (as many others spell it).