Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sotol, The Desert Spoon

Dasylirion wheeleri

Sotol is a New Mexico native evergreen that has long, ribbon-like, light green leaves with serrated edges. The leaves form a symmetrical fountain-like clump or rosette with a 3’ diameter or larger. The common name, desert spoon, comes from the appearance of the leaves, when pulled out of the rosette, are shaped like a spoon at their base. On older specimens the rosette will sometimes sit atop a short trunk. Sotol produces spectacular 6 to 12 feet tall white stalks with greenish-yellow flower clusters atop. Flowers are dioecious, with males and females produced on separate plants. Flowers attract honey bees and hummingbirds. Flowers are not always produced annually but every couple years. Seeds have papery wings and are wind dispersed. Sotol does best on well-drained soils in full sun, and is drought and heat tolerant. Sotol makes a great specimen or ornamental landscape plant in the xeric garden. Sotol has been used to produce baskets, mats, ropes, even liquor ("sotol”). Low  water. Zone 6.


  1. I wonder if provenance dictated spotty hardiness in last winter's brief <-5F or <-10F freeze? There was definite post-winter damage in far SE Abq on some plants, though little damage where it didn't get that cold or for as long. I heard plants that came from seed in southern NM populations had no problem.

    My guess on USDA zones, since you note that -
    z8 - lower elev / SW edge of range in Arizona
    z7 - higher elev / Chih. Desert range NM, TX
    (with at least z6 for green D. texanum, D. leiophyllum)

    Thoughts? The provenance of your D. wheeleri?

  2. At our Los Lunas Trees That Please Nursery, the cold was not that brief and went well below - 10 F, sustaining below 30 F for several days. At the Arboretum Tomé production nursery of Trees That Please, 4 miles from the retail nursery, we had a low of - 22 F. Here's what happened to our Desert Spoon - D. wheeleri plants. Those planted in the ground had no issues. Those in production, grown from seed and stored in the 3000 square foot cold frame had a 75% mortality rate. The cold frame is not heated and will still bottom-out at the same low temp as outside, but often protects evergreens because of the higher dew point than what's outside. However the soil in the containers will still freeze solid and remained frozen solid for over two months with the containers stuck to the ground with ice caused by that particular event. There are many species of native plants in the same cold frame, including cacti, agave, oaks and redwoods, with only the Desert Spoon having a high failure rate. It could be that the high failure rate was related to the location of the plants near the back door of the building. The seed for the Desert Spoon was collected by staff of Trees That Please from about 7500 feet elevation in the Black Range of the Gila National Forest, in a cold shaded canyon bottom growing in association with Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir and Silverleaf Oak.

    Michael Martin Meléndrez - owner of Trees That Please

    1. Great to hear that provenance. In this part of Abq (above Juan Tabo, S of Indian School), it was very windy prior to the low of -8 to -14F. We had 85 consecutive hours <32F.

  3. Wow,Albuquerque is sure warmer than Los Lunas. I read somewhere that even Las Cruces had 98 hours, or something like that, of consecutive hours below 32F as a result of that same storm.