The devil's claw fruit is technically a drupaceous capsule with a woody inner part surrounded by a fleshy layer. The rather sinister common name of "devil's claw" refers to the inner woody capsule which splits open at one end into two curved horns or claws. Each capsule contains about 40 black seeds which are gradually released when the claws split apart. They are also called "elephant tusks" and readily cling to the hooves of grazing animals or your shoes if you happen to step on them. In some areas of the southwestern United States they are a nuisance to sheep ranchers because they get entangled in the fleece. In his fascinating book, Plants and Planet (1974), Anthony Huxley (son of Julian Huxley) eloquently describes the hitchhiking pods as "hookers." The fresh green pods (and dried black seed capsules) were important items in the cultures of many Native American tribes of the southwestern United States, and are still used to this day for food and in basketry. The plant is also known as "unicorn plant," referring to the large, hornlike fruit before is has split open.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about devil's claw plants are the curious seed pods. When they hang in clusters on the branches the green, fleshy fruits resemble bean pods or okra. They are cultivated in gardens of Native Americans throughout the southwest and are cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The nutritious dried seeds are rich in oil and protein and can be shelled and eaten.