Keep your roses, your lilies, your lilacs, and your lavender. The fragrance of a creosote bush after rain puts them all to shame. When late summer monsoons drench the tiny green leaves of this desert dweller (Larrea tridentata), it gives off a spicy, earthy aroma that makes you thirsty for a drink you’ve never had. In the dry season, recognize these native shrubs by their twisted gray branches, pencil-point yellow flowers, and intermittent fruits, which look like miniature cotton balls. Once you find it, go ahead and ignore it. Some say this plant is the most drought-tolerant perennial in North America. Just don’t forget to stand nearby after the next downpour. Inhale. A rose will seem, at least for a moment, too ordinary for words.
Common name: Creosote Bush, greasewood
Botanical name: Larrea tridentata
Plant type: Evergreen shrub
Zones: 8 to 11
Height: 4 to 8 feet
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Average to poor
· Moisture: Dry
· Mulch: None needed.
· Pruning: None needed.
· Fertilizer: None needed.
· By seed or by cuttings. Seedlings need moisture and moderate temperatures to survive.
Pests and diseases
· Vulnerable to verticillium wilt.
· The creosote bush is adapted to extremely dry conditions. Use in xeriscape gardening or desert settings.
· A ring of creosote bushes in the Mojave Desert, nicknamed “King Clone,” is thought to be 11,700 years old—possibly the oldest living organism on Earth.
· Many insects, including more than 20 species of bees, feed on the flower and leaves of the creosote bush.
· None known.
All in the family
· There are five species in the Larrea genus. Creosote bush is found in the southwestern United States, northern Mexico, and Argentina.
· Other members of Zygophyllaceae (the caltrop family) include the goat-head or puncture vine and the Arizona poppy.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Larrea tridentata courtesy of Mark Eberle)