The stiff, spiky, blue-green leaves of desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) look almost grasslike—but they’re not. The elegant leaves are edged in vicious spines. In spite of the risk to tender flesh, many dryland gardeners find a place for this desert dweller, which is native to northern Mexico and the American Southwest, because they appreciate its architectural beauty. The spherical clump of narrow, leathery leaves is bold and dramatic, and the bloom is even more so. Every second or third year, desert spoon sends up a flower stalk that’s 8 to 12 feet tall and carries spikes of tiny white blooms throughout the summer.
Common name: Desert spoon, sotol, blue sotol
Botanical name: Dasylirion wheeleri
Plant type: Evergreen shrub
Zones: 8 to 11 (colder for some varieties)
Height: 3 to 4 feet
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Well-drained sand or gravel
· Moisture: Dry; drought-tolerant when established.
· Mulch: None needed.
· Pruning: None needed.
· Fertilizer: None needed.
· By seed, or by separating offsets from the main plant.
Pests and diseases
· Possible target for scale insects.
· Susceptible to root rot if frequently wet.
· As a desert native, Dasylirion wheeleri is extremely tolerant of drought and heat. Use it as a specimen plant in a spot that’s too dry and sunny for other plants. But don’t forget to give it occasional water while it’s settling in.
· Because of its spines, D. wheeleri should be planted well away from foot traffic.
· In the right spot, desert spoon can give your garden a shimmery, magical effect. Find a place for it where the late afternoon sun will shine through its leaves.
· Flowers attract bees and hummingbirds.
· None known.
All in the family
· Desert spoon is often mistaken for yucca. Though the two are similar, and both belong to the Agavaceae family, yucca has smooth leaves and larger flowers. Several species of yucca are native to the Americas, some in climates as cold as Zone 4.
· Some varieties of desert spoon can reportedly survive into Zone 5, if planted near a warm southern wall with excellent drainage. It’s said to be surprisingly cold-hardy when established.
· The heart of desert spoon is used to make the drink called sotol, which gives the plant its other common name. Its fibers have been used to make baskets, mats, and ropes. The name “desert spoon” comes from the fact that the leaf forms a spoon shape where it joins the trunk.
Where to buy
• Phoenix Desert Nursery, Phoenix, AZ, 602-305-9275, www.phoenixdesertnursery.com
• Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC, 919-772-4794, www.plantdelights.com
• Yucca Do Nursery, Giddings, TX, 979-542-8811, www.yuccado.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo by Tracy Walsh)