Creosote Bush

One of the most readily recognized desert plants is creosote bush (Larrea tridentata). A member of the Caltrop Family (Zygophyllaceae), creosote bush grows on gravelly plains, sandy flats and rocky slopes below 5,000 feet in desert areas of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas into northern Mexico. It is also found in Argentina.

An erect, multi-stemmed shrub, creosote bushes can live several thousand years. As the older stems in the middle of the plant die, new stems arise on the perimeter creating a “fairy ring”. The greyish stems with blackish joints are originally reddish and are very brittle.

The opposite leaves are covered in resins to help prevent water loss. These resins make the foliage unpalatable to most animals. Creosote bush leaves are compound with two leaflets, entire margins, three veins and pointed tips. During dry periods some leaves drop to conserve water.

The flowers are solitary at the ends of twigs. Creosote bush flowers have 5 sepals and 5 petals. The yellow petals often turnabout halfway and cup inward. There are 10 stamens inserted into a 10 lobed disk and a superior ovary with 5 cells. The flowers are palatable. Many insects visit the flowers including about 100 different species of bees of which 22 are totally dependent on creosote bush for pollen and nectar.

The fruits are fuzzy white balls with a persistent style. Eventually they separate into five one-seeded nutlets.

Desert natives employed creosote bush medicinally to treat rheumatism, sores, snake bites, tuberculosis and gastric complaints as well as other ailments. A small insect causes reddish brown lac scales on the stems. This lac was used for mending pottery, fixing arrow points, waterproofing baskets and making a red dye for leather.

The genus name honors Bishop Juan Antonio de Larrea (1731 – 1803), a Spanish clergyman and patron of science.

These creosote bushes were photographed along Daylight Pass Road in Death Valley National Park CA.

This entry was posted in Shrubs, Wildflowers and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Creosote Bush

  1. tonytomeo says:

    You know, this is another of the many species that you feature that I never paid much attention to. I know that it lives in some of the desert ecosystems that I find to be so fascinating, including the Mojave Desert in northern Los Angeles County, but if I had ever encountered it, I merely ignored it. One of my colleagues here, who had lived in the Mojave Desert, told me that it is a common species in some of the places that I have gone to. Of course, it is a more dominant species where there are fewer other species.


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