Monday, December 6, 2010

Sotol (like: Soooo Tall!)


Sotol, or Desert Spoon is not for everyone. For one thing the leaves have spines pointing in both directions, so you are sure to get lacerated if you try and get too intimate. (Not a good idea). And frankly, it's not the toughest of Southwestern upland plants: the several species we have grown at Denver Botanic Gardens sustain winter damage most years. And I've noticed they are horribly attractive to aphids (not a good thing). This is the hardiest one: Dasylirion texanum, available very widely and cheaply nowadays thanks to Mountain States Nursery. Dasylirion wheeleri grows much further north into New Mexico. I remember seeing this the first time over 30 years ago on one of my early field trips with Paul Maslin: it grew in the Malpais near Carrizozo, one of America's most outrageous, surrealistic landscapes. This area gets quite cold (Corona, not far to the north, is downright frigid in winter) and I always assumed it would be tough. We have grown it repeatedly from this area, and it will survive in a perfect microclimate in Denver, but only just.
A few years ago I drove to Del Rio in Texas with my daughter so she could get a taste of Mexico. The highway northward from Del Rio to San Angelo is enchanting in midwinter: and there are countless spires of this hardiest of sotols rising on all sides of the road for seemingly hundreds of miles (if you know Texas...you know this is not much of an exaggeration).
One or another of the plants of this remarkable native semi-succulent bloom here or there around Denver Botanic Gardens every year now. It would take a hard heart (or perhaps someone very sensitive) to spurn this plant, despite its many drawbacks. I find these spire-like flower stalks inspiring, and the vicious foliage is perfect for crowd control issues: may trespassers bleed! (Braww haa haaah!)

2 comments:

  1. Wow! If only in my garden. This plant must be on the 'Banana Berm' judging by the Caesalpinia behind and what looks like leaves of Chilopsis in the lower right corner. These are all usually listed as Zone 7/8 on the Net. DBG is clearly Zone 5, is it not?

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  2. I love it! Banana Berm! I think it has a new name...bravo. You are right that this slope on Dryland Mesa is magical: if you zoned in close you would see a bevy of Mexican cacti and other delights we couldn't seem to grow anywhere else...I think Denver qualifies as Zone 6, and this berm may touch on Zone 7 most years...but my house five miles away is a solid 5. In steppe climates, microclimate is alive and well!

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