In our area, the plant typically used by Botanicas as "Espanta Muerto" is not native, nor does it successfully grow year to year. As we continue to strive to become more self-sustainable, mirroring the principles of our Taino and Palo Ancestors, we have come to look around for alternative plants that can fulfill the role of many common plants used by Paleros. We always check to make sure that the Muertos accept our "substitutes".
One of the plants we use as an "Espanta Muerto" is the black locust tree. The black locust tree is native to our area. It is a prickly tree with thorns that penetrate. It is a strong tree with wood that endures a lifetime even in direct contact with the earth (used as fence posts for many generations). It has many other benefits, including benefits to wildlife and bees. Black Locust is one of those trees that when cut, sends new shoots up from whatever was cut, even a small section of root left in the Earth from removing the Locust will regenerate vigorously. Locust also "fixes" nitrogen from the AIR into the SOIL helping to heal the SOIL!!! All these attributes are significant and powerful Spiritual Energies.
These shrubby Locusts actually came up from roots left when we had planted some locust in a small tree nursery in the area. When the locust were removed, not all the roots were removed and so they regenerated. Needing to remove the locusts for a goat pasture that we are creating, we harvested these Espanta Muertos, from which we will have powder, garavatos, bejucos (roots), palos and we can collect and use the thorns themselves. All these things can be utilized and will be utilized for Nkisis, travajos, and so on.
There are many "purist" Paleros around who undoubtedly will say that the only true Espanta Muerto is that which is harvested in the Caribbean and sold in Botanicas. However, some of these same purists have only handled the Espanta Muerto dried in a bag, or half dried leaves in a brown paper bag from the Botanica, and have yet to see, smell, touch and appreciate the whole plant, root, stem, leaf, bark, flower and to see the plant in its natural environment where one can witness what insects, animals and other Relatives it attracts and coexists with.
In a time where the transportation of everything from food to "things" has reached ridiculous and unnecessary proportions, as people who care for Mother Earth and whose Spirituality is based on the Powers (Mpungos and Cemis) of Mother Earth, we need to root ourselves, as our Ancestors did, in our local environment, the spaces that we occupy in the here and now as much as possible. We need to embrace the small space that the Great Mpungo has placed us within the great Fundamento of Life (Mother Earth).
Having said this, we also have a house full of tropical Bano Plantas which we carry inside every winter so that they survive, and yes we use them for Spiritual Purposes. However, flexibility and adaptation to where we find ourselves, is essential for continued Thriving and for continued Healing of the Sacred Womb of Life. It is this Thriving and Healing of the Sacred Womb of Life that is our greatest priority as Paleros and as Tainos and as Human-Spiritual Beings!
Note: We also utilize the hawthorne tree which has big thorns and is also native here, as another Espanta Muerto plant.