Wild & Watered Creosotes
Wild & Watered Creosotes

Waking up the other morning to the smell of rain, well actually the smell of Larrea-Tridentata was so invigorating.  After my lifelong obsession with this botanical wonder I think that it is time to blog about it.  Being that this bush, commonly known as the Creosote Bush is one of the most common plants of the American Southwest, it exists abundantly in the Mojave Desert but it also grows in most other deserts of North America.  Many people don’t realize that this plant is the reason that they love the smell of rain in the desert.  When I was a teenager and I first realized that Creosote was the cause of that wonderful smell I would spray them with a hose or break a branch off and bring it inside the house and rinse it in the sink to get that wonderful scent, in fact I still do this from time to time. 

Creosote is an evergreen shrub and slowly grows to 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide but grows much faster with added water.  They have white seeds pods on and off throughout the year and yellow flowers that also bloom sporadically all year.  They like loose soil and it is a very drought tolerant plant that adapts to pruning and with extra water can become an excellent patio shrub or hedge.  Unlike other desert plants they will flourish with added water.

A group of these plants are now believed to be the oldest living things on earth, one of them is estimated to be 12,000 years old, its name “King Clone”, for more info on this ancient Creosote Bush (ring) read this blog from last year:

https://www.desertusa.com/dusablog/the-story-of-two-inconspicuous-giants.html

Thousands of miles away in South America lives its close cousin Larrea-Divaricata, though I have never saw one in person, the pictures that I have seen look almost identical to our Creosote and its description is very similar in size, smell and other characteristics.

I live on property in the Mojave Desert that was graded by a tractor years ago thus no Creosote Bushes or any other native plants exist on the property but my desire to re-plant them on the property has been a long journey to say the least with Creosote being the most difficult.  I began collecting seed pods once I identified what these little white rascals were but nothing would grow no matter how well I cared for them so I did some research and discovered that the seeds are coated with a substance that gets washed off during warm rains and allows the seeds to grow.

I tried several methods to sprout seeds, rinsing them overnight is one method, the other is a warming microwave burst but neither method seemed to help.  I went out and dug some young sprouts up to no avail, then I tried again but this time I gave them a shot of vitamin B-1 for transplanting trees and shrubs.  I actually had one success out of 10 plants.  I tried 10 more plants with vitamin B-1 but this time I had no success.  I kept trying with a few successes and a few random sprouts in the yard from seeds I had distributed.  Not being sure if vitamin B-1 helped or not I had decided that it was just luck so I decided to buy from a nursery in a container.

In Morongo Valley, a nursery called Cactus Mart is a great place for desert native plants and they have Creosote in 1 and 5 gallon containers.  I planted two that I had purchased, they suggested that I cut the bottom off of the container, plant it in the ground then slide the container out of the ground after either weeks or months of care.  One bush survived and one died, so just last week I purchased one more.  What I discovered is that Creosotes grow abundantly but they are very fragile to having their roots disturbed and are difficult at best to grow from seeds and even very difficult to plant out of a container.

In the end I appreciate the Creosote Bush more than ever and I will continue to work at figuring out the best method for growing them in a container and planting them.  I even purchased Creosote soap once but my complaint was that it did not smell much like Creosote, meanwhile I just might name my next dog Creosote, a tribute to this delicate but thriving desert bush.

Take It Easy – Mojave

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For the purposes of this blog I call myself Mojave because of my love for the Mojave Desert. I have lived in the Yucca Valley area of the Hi-Desert since 1976, I have always loved our Mojave Desert. My appreciation for the Mojave has grown even more over the years. I am a Career & Technical Education teacher and coordinator at the high school level as well as a part-time college instructor. I also served on the Town of Yucca Valley Planning Commission for 5 years and am a current Town Councilman. In my spare time I enjoy researching desert facts, exploring the desert, geocaching and enjoying the many animals that keep my wife and I very busy.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for your story. I was born and resided in 29palms for 25years. I miss that smell of the rain coming. The refresh from the rain, after long periods of heat.

  2. Thank you Amy, yes if we could bottle the smell I believe we would have a real success story. I even bought Creosote soap once but my complaint was that it did not smell like Creosote.

  3. Want to thank you for the series of articles you have done. I have thoroughly enjoyed them, particularily the Old Woman Springs article. The photos are excellent and the articles are very informative!

  4. I love everything about the Morongo Basin. I would like to receive your blog to stay “in touch” with what’s going on there. I moved away 2 yeas ago.

  5. Thank You Ann. I wish I had the time to write more often but I am due to write a new blog post soon. Just watch DesertUSA and I hope you don’t miss any posts. Hopefully you are not too far from the Mojave.

  6. I’ve heard that creosote bush secretes a substance that kills nearby plants, or prevent them from developing? Is that true? I guess you just need to plant it away from other plants..

  7. I have heard that but am not sure. The few near the house we rake often so I assume the effects would be lessened. Thanks for your comment Mark.

  8. There’s nothing like the smell of the desert after a rain. I really miss the desert. I couldn’t wait to get out of town when I graduated from YVHS but now I look forward to going home.

  9. Creosote is tenacious and often comes back, despite grading, so keep an eye out.

    Also, don’t rake away the detritus under the tree. It needs it.

    From a fellow larrea-lover.

  10. Thank you for your insight. I would love to compare ours with its south american counterpart and see how similar they look and smell.

  11. If it’s that difficult to get this plant established, I might try looking into what mycorrhizal associations (if any) the plant requires. Perhaps it would help to take some soil from where creosote is growing prolifically and put some of that in the hole when you plant the plants serve as fungal inoculum. Just a guess.

    I wouldn’t expect vitamin supplements to improve germination, but I guess stranger things have happened.

    That the plant is in some places so abundant and yet so difficult to get established suggest that there are many thousand (probably millions) of seeds and seedlings that just don’t make it.

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