Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Nature Watch: "Creosote"


Last updated 4/5/2022 at 10:30am

Wilson's Warbler in a creosote bush

You might call the creosote bush the Ford of desert plants.

They are not particularly fancy, they've been around a long time, and they can be found just about anywhere, in the desert at least.

But the creosote bush provides food and habitat for desert creatures and is an important desert plant that just about everyone might be aware of, whether they know it or not.

Scattered across the desert, the creosote bush produces a fragrant oil that slowly accumulates in the sand and is activated when it rains, producing a distinctive smell known as petrichor.

Petrichor is defined as that pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.

This prominent plant grows in the Mojave, Sonoran, Colorado and Chihuahuan deserts from California to Western Texas and Northern Mexico.

The evergreen creosote grows to about 6 to 10 feet tall and is easily identified by tiny, dark green, waxy leaves. It flowers in the spring with bright yellow blossoms of five petals and about an inch in size. After blooming, the seeds produced begin as a pea-sized, white puff ball.

The creosote survives in harsh deserts because it is extremely tolerant of Drought, alkaline and saline soils. It propagates by producing the tiny seeds as well as new shoots that emerge from roots. The plentiful creosote provides food for jackrabbits that will feed on its leaves and seeds are popular with desert woodrats and kangaroo rats.

The showy yellow flowers are visited by nearly two dozen species of bees and eaten by both chuckwalla and desert iguana. Native Americans used the plant for a variety of medicinal purposes.

Read more of Ernie's work. "There's a Marmot in My Pack," available on Amazon Books.

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