all of my wanderings around the Great American Desert over the past forty
years or so, I have been favorably impressed with one of the most common
of the larger desert natives. It always seemed to me the prettiest
of the larger desert native flora. Never even knew its name until after
getting "hooked" on it after seeing one of its blooms for the very
first time upon entering the Death Valley National National Park during one of my series of "25 year revisits" to that beautiful place circa 2005. My photo of that first seen bloom is shown at the right of this page. Then the following year it seemed that every creosote bush in the desert southwest seemed to be blooming all at once. Beautiful and quite endearing. There are, of course, zillions of acres of them throughout the Great American Desert. Larrea tridenta is one of the most frequently occuring larger plants capable of surviving in the desert.
During my first picture taking visit to my Little House in the Desert after signing the purchase contract, making an earnest money deposit, and getting the rest of the purchase price moving toward where it needed to be to close the transaction, I noticed that some creosote bushes were going to be part of the deal. I was delighted. After I took possession of the house and land, I made a serious effort to learn more about them.
The whirled wide wubb is an unpredictable place for information gathering. On the positive side, it was searching for information about the reality of an "antibiotic" prescribed by an attempted murderer in the Reno dentifraud and posthumous spouse busymess which disclosed what that potentially lethal faggot designer drug for causing chemical sodomization and "patient death" actually was. The stuff is so severely dangerous that it can cause internal bleeding and "patient death" even when used as an externally applied ointment. Saved my life is what the whirled wide wubb did in that situation because it allowed me to access genuine information about the fraudulent "antibiotic" that the criminal thug attempted murderer had prescribed all the while the local pharmacy that filled that criminally intended prescription was shining me on with bogus warning labels that pretended it was no different from any genuine antibiotic. (I had probable cause to do the web search based on other wrongful behaviors of the criminal thug's murderous dentifraud office. It wasn't a situation of pure dumb luck nor automatic verification of drugs prescribed by unknown state licensed practitioners of "health services". The fortunate aspect was that I was familiar with pharmacopeias available on the web and recognized the need to go see them.)
On the negative side, my searches for information about the care and feeding of creosote bushes resulted in a child's garden of misinformation and misdirection. For example, the web sources I found about transplanting creosote bushes accurately indicated that it was difficult if not improbable to accomplish. But at the same time they described the creosote as having "a" tap root, as in *one* such thing. Pshaw! and Balderdash! Larrea tridentata doesn't have *one* tap root. It has a whole system of them going off in all directions for quite amazing distances from the original plant, beginning about 12-15 inches below the soil surface where the creosote bush is growing. In any event, here is some of the information that I did get from my web search about creosote bushes:
Larrea tridentata (creosote bush) is a flowering plant in the family Zygophyllaceae. It is a prominent species in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts of western North America, including portions of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and western Texas in the United States, and northern Chihuahua in Mexico. It is closely related to the South American Larrea divaricata, and was formerly treated as the same species.
It is an evergreen shrub growing to 1-3 m tall, rarely 4 m. In my usual terms that is 3 feet to 10 feet rarely 13 feet tall that the author was talking about. I have, however, seen one unique creosote plant in The Living Desert, Palm Desert CA, which appeared to me to be at least 20 feet tall. Its photo appears at right. The stems of the plant bear resinous, dark green leaves with two leaflets joined at the base, each leaflet 7-18 mm long [that's 0.27 to 0.71 inches long] and 4-8.5 mm broad [0.16 to 0.33 inches]. The flowers are up to 25 mm diameter [one full inch], with five yellow petals. The whole plant exhibits a characteristic odor of creosote, from which the common name derives.
Creosote bush is most common on the well-drained soils of bajadas and flats. In parts of its range, it may cover large areas in practically pure stands, though it usually occurs in association with Ambrosia dumosa (burrow bush or bur-sage). Despite this common habitat, creosote bush roots have been found to produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of burrow bush roots, and much of their relationship is currently unexplained.
Such chemicals, however, have failed to explain the peculiar regularity in the spacing of individual plants within a stand. Creosote bush stands tend to resemble man-made orchards in the even placement of plants. Originally, it was assumed that the plant produced some sort of water-soluble inhibitor that prevented the growth of other bushes near mature, healthy bushes. Now, however, it has been shown that the root systems of mature creosote plants are simply so efficient at absorbing water that fallen seeds nearby cannot accumulate enough water to germinate, effectively creating dead zones around every plant. It also seems that all plants within a stand grow at approximately the same rate, and that the creosote bush is a very long-living plant. As the Creosote Bush grows older, its oldest branches eventually die and its crown splits into separate crowns. This normally happens when the plant is 30 to 90 years old. Eventually the old crown dies and the new one becomes a clone of the previous plant, composed of many separate stem crowns all from the same seed. One creosote plant, named "King Clone", near Lucerne Valley has been carbon dated to 11,700 years old.
Contributing to the harshness of the germination environment above mature root systems, young creosote bushes are much more susceptible to drought stress than established plants. Germination is actually quite active during wet periods, but most of the young plants die very quickly unless there are optimal water conditions. Ground heat compounds the young plants' susceptibility to water stress, and ground temperatures can reach upwards of 70Â° C (160Â° F). To become established, it seems the young plant must experience a pattern of three to five years of abnormally cool and moist weather during and after germination. From this, it can be inferred that all the plants inside a stand are of equal age.
Mature plants, however, can tolerate extreme drought stress. In terms of negative water potential, creosote bushes can operate fully at -50 bars of water potential and have been found living down to -120 bars, although the practical average floor is around -70 bars, where the plant's need for cellular respiration generally exceeds the level that the water-requiring process of photosynthesis can provide. Cell division can occur during these times of water stress, and it is common for new cells to quickly absorb water after rainfall. This rapid uptake causes branches to 'grow' several centimeters at the end of a dry season. The small leaves of the creosote bush have a high surface-volume ratio, optimizing the rate at which heat escapes and water content is retained. Water loss is further decreased by the resinous, waxy coating of the leaves. Plants do drop some leaves heading into summer, but if all leaves are lost, the plant will not recover.
Accumulation of fallen leaves, as well as other detritus caught from the passing wind, creates an ecological community specific to the creosote bush canopy, including beetles, millipedes, pocket mice, and kangaroo rats. Creosote bush commonly forms clonal colonies, which may be very long-lived; a ring of creosote bushes in the Mojave Desert is believed to be at least 12,000 years old.
The photo at left is of one of my medium sized tridentatas during the blooming season in Spring 2008. I have more spectacular photos of creosote bushes and blooms taken various places around Death Valley National Park and in the Mojave National Preserve. This guy is special to me because he is one of those growing on my own land.
Victor Valley College has a project underway to help Borax (a mining company) reclaim land near its primary mine in Boron CA. Contact is Neville Slade, Chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department at the college. They might have some useful information despite the typical closure of information sharing beyond clients by paid academic projects. There is also an apparently domesticated hedgerow of creosote bushes that I noticed the last time I visited Calico Ghost Town at one house along Ghost Town Road indicating that the owner knows enough about creosotes to persuade them to grow in plethora in a proximity which is most unusual for Larrea tridentata.
From many previous visits to the Living Desert Reserve in Palm Desert CA, I knew that they had the largest creosote bush that I've ever seen anywhere, as shown in the second photo above. I figured I could do a lot worse than to get the advice of their gardening people on how to take care of my prospective creosote bushes. Perhaps even be able to purchase some additional creosote bushes for planting (although that part of the notion didn't work out on any near term basis; they had some for sale but too small and too expensive--and some other complications that I didn't even know about at the time). So I took a special day trip down to The Living Desert on a "day off" during the time period between initial contract and final closing of my Little House purchase to pick the brains of their plant experts. While I was there, I was shown some reference books they had in the plant shop which talked briefly about the watering and feeding of Larrea tridentata (creosote bushes) and listened to the clerk who showed me the books. I was advised to water them twice a week, one heavy soaking and one lighter watering, making sure that the related soil was well drained so there wouldn't be any long term accumulations of water around them (my land is quite well drained soil). I was also advised to feed them with either a commercial grade fertilizer or with animal manure but would need to look further into what the optimum feeding patterns might be. Actual experience suggests that I was not well advised on that trip to visit the plant shop.
Propagation Material: Seeds
for Creosote Tea (made from Larrea tridentata): Place a sprig of
creosote leaves and flowers in a cup. Add boiling water, cover and
steep 5 to 10 minutes (depending on strength desired), then strain.
You may want to sweeten this strong, aromatic tea with honey.
080104 My creosote bushes had a special treat for me today. We're heading into what the weather reports say is going to be some significant rainfall and there is a brisk coolish breeze blowing through the desert this afternoon. I got the urge to take an afternoon walk around my land and to visit my creosotes. The talk about creosotes (real name Larrea tridentata) is that they got their common name because "after a rain" they have a unique aroma similar to the chemical substance called "creosote", a transparent oily liquid with a pungent odor, obtained by distillation of wood tar or coal tar and used as an antiseptic or as a prservative for wood. Well, the rain isn't scheduled until manyana and my last watering of them was back on Tuesday three days ago. But as I walked past I noticed a very pleasant fragrance coming from the prominent creosote bushes, much milder than the overwhelming odor from pine needles but full and rich for the nostrils.
080415 I'm so happy with my guys of the Larrea tridentata persuasion. They've been growing lotsa lotsa buds which started a day or so ago to bloom. This is on my land with my creosote bushes who have been provided with my waterings. Not some government land nor government owned plants producing blooms but my very own creosote blooms. It is a further happiness beyond finding that I would have some creosote bushes just after I contracted to buy my little house in the desert.
080704 My creosote bushes are an ongoing source of inspiration to me. I frequently take walks among them at night and sometimes during the day when I have a few minutes for a walk. When the weather in the Mojave Desert gets blisteringly hot (officially 32 days per year over 100 degrees Fahrenheit but many more than that during summer 2008), creosotes go into a defensive nongrowing mode to conserve water. They exude a waxy substance on their leaves which inhibits water loss to evaporation. They taste "bad enough" to wildlife predators such as rabbits that they don't get eaten even when food supplies are absent. They grow deep and widespread root systems to gather water and nourishment. When the ferocious desert winds blow, their branches bend with the wind but do not break. They are capable of going through *years* of drought without dying. Only when conditions are right in their experience will they grow more branches and leaves. As a result they tend to live many hundreds of years as individuals and one ring of creosote bushes in the desert is said to be over 12,000 years old. Models of sustainability. Notice the key concepts in how the creosotes sustain themselves: conservation of scarce resources, opportunistic growth and development patterns, effective defenses against environmental and predatory enemies.
For all my good intentions to encourage my creosotes to grow as tall and
full as they might be capable, according to the directions I got from the
Plant Shop at the Living Desert, my own physical limitations have interfered.
Each Spring I managed for awhile to do the twice weekly waterings.
That involved lugging a 225 foot length of garden hose from the spigot
on the side of the house out to where the creosotes are growing.
My crippled wrists and arthritic joints objected every time. The
result was that I tended to slack off as the year progressed. I was
even making excuses to myself that I didn't want
to be watering when they had gone beyond blooming and developed their fruits
(furry looking seeds). Complicating the matter further, the wind
was frequently blowing when I got a round tuit and there was some question
about what percentage of the water that I was throwing at them with the
garden hose was actually reaching the creosote bushes.
I didn't really plan it that way. Competing priorities made most
of the choices involved. But what I wound up
Watching my creosote bushes thriving on their new drip watering system,
even growing late season buds and
A long term demonstration of the impact of watering is shown in the pair of photos below. The photo at left was recorded 071216, shortly after I bought my Little House and its related creosote bushes. The very same group of plants, minus the weedy growths that were also in that area, is shown in the photo at right recorded 110820 after about two years of proper watering via the installed drip lines. It demonstrates the success of a primary objective of mine when I bought my Little House: I wanted to encourage my creosotes to grow as tall and strong as they might be capable. This was not to suggest that they couldn't live happy healthy lives without me. They can and do. They are among the hardiest of the desert environment survivors. But if there was anything I could do to facilitate them in their growth and development, I wanted to do it.
the matter of growing more creosotes on my land I had been having no luck
at all finding garden shops that have any. I now
Last but certainly not least of my Larrea tridentata companions is Grandpa Creosote. He has been estimated to be more than 500 years old. I admired him from afar for the first three years I was working on my place in the desert as a neighboring delight located unfavorably on a disastrously trashed piece of land next door to my original pile of dirt. After two years of effort to negotiate purchase of that disaster area from the series of surreal estate flipping gamblers who owned it and were rigging the price higher and higher with each transfer from one of them to the next, I finally got possession of that pile of dirt on 101115. The sign next to Grandpa Creosote advises that it is now the entrance to Bob's Little Arboretum, Private Property, No Trespassing. Numerous additional trees, bushes, and shrubs, such as those shown on the front page of my photos web site have joined Grandpa in beautifying my environment and the surrounding neighborhood. I have yet to count the number of other creosotes which grace that surrounding land, but it is a primary creosote habitat and I am carefully preserving nearly all of the original creosote population as I develop other aspects. Grandpa doesn't have a drip line providing him with water but is in direct line of the flood channel I built at the front of my piles of dirt that endeavors to guide the runoff from an entire uphill subdivision entering my land, because it is being funnelled against my property by the stupidly designed road system, "less destructively" out into the Arboretum.
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