31 Creosote Bush Facts: Learn About The Plant With Different Names

Oluniyi Akande
Oct 12, 2023 By Oluniyi Akande
Originally Published on Feb 08, 2022
Blooming creosote bush
Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.1 Min

Larrea tridentata is a plant that is also known as creosote bush, greasewood, chaparral, and gobernadora in the Mexican desert and it can survive extreme drought while growing healthy bushes.

It belongs to the Zygophyllaceae family of flowering plants. This plant exhibits the ability to secure more water by preventing the growth of surrounding plants.

It's also known as hediondilla in Sonora, which means 'smelly' in Spanish. This is because the creosote bush is known to have a distinct odor.

Tridentata refers to the three-toothed leaves of this species. They are medium-sized shrubs with compact green leaves, tiny yellow flowers, and yellow fuzzy seeds that grow slowly.

Beetles, millipedes, pocket mice, and kangaroo rats inhabit an ecological community unique to the large creosote bush canopy, which is formed by the accumulation of fallen leaves and other trash caught in the wind.

Where do creosote bushes grow?

The Larrea tridentata is native to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It is deemed as one of the most common and important plants of the warm deserts of North America.

  • Larrea tridentata is a common species in the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert, and the Chihuahuan Desert of western North America.
  • The species can be found as far east as Zapata County in Texas, around the 99th meridian west, along the Rio Grande southeast of Laredo.
  • The creosote bush population of the Mohave Desert has 78 chromosomes, the Sonoran populations have 52, and the Chihuahuan populations have 26.

What do creosote bushes look like?

  • Larrea tridentata is a type of evergreen shrub that grows to a height of 3-10 ft (0.9-3 m), rarely exceeding 13 ft (3.9 m). The stems of the creosote bush have resinous, dark green leaves with two opposed lanceolate leaflets linked at the base by a deciduous awn, each leaflet 0.2-0.7 in (7-18 mm) long and 0.1-0.3 in (4-8.5 mm) broad.
  • The flowers have five yellow petals and can be up to an inch in diameter and the action of the creosote gall midge can cause galls to form.
  • The entire plant has a distinctive creosote odor, which is where the popular name comes from.
  • Its odor is frequently connected with the 'smell of rain' in the locations where it thrives.
  • Young creosote bushes are substantially more vulnerable to drought stress than established plants due to the severity of the germination environment above mature root systems.
  • During wet periods, germination is quite vigorous, but most immature plants die rapidly unless water conditions are ideal.
  • The young plants' susceptibility to water stress is exacerbated by ground heat, which can reach temperatures of up to 160 F (71.1 C).
  • During and after germination, the new plant appears to need three to five years of abnormally cool and damp weather to establish itself.
  • Therefore, all of the plants in a stand are of the same age.
  • Mature plants, on the other hand, can withstand prolonged drought.
  • During times of water stress, cell division can occur, and new cells absorb water quickly following rain.
  • Branches of the bush develop several inches in length at the conclusion of a wet season due to this quick absorption.
  • The resinous waxy coating of the creosote leaves reduces water loss, as does their small size, which prevents them from heating above-ground temperatures (which would boost the vapor pressure deficit between the leaf and the air, thus boosting water loss).
  • Plants lose some leaves as summer approaches, but if all of them are gone, the bush will die.
  • Animals eat creosote bush seeds.
  • The plant grows at a slow and moderate pace.
Creosote bush with blured background

Creosote Bush's Lifespan

The oldest branches of the creosote bush die as it becomes older, and the crown splits into separate crowns. This usually occurs when the plant is between 30-90 years old.

  • The old crown eventually dies, and the new one develops into a clonal colony from the previous plant, consisting of many independent stem crowns all originating from the same seed.
  • The 'King Clone' creosote ring is one of the oldest living specimens on Earth.
  • The specimen's ring is estimated to be around 11,700 years old.
  • The diameter of this single clonal colony plant of Larrea tridentata can reach 67 ft (20.4 m), with an average diameter of 45 ft (13.7 m).
  • Frank Vasek, a lecturer at the University of California, Riverside, identified King Clone and calculated its age.
  • The plant's mean yearly growth rate outward from the center of the ring was calculated using measurements and radiocarbon dating of wood fragments.
  • The overall age of the ring could be approximated by measuring its diameter.
  • The oldest creosote bush is located in the Lucerne Valley and Johnson Valley Creosote Rings Preserve.

Medicinal Uses Of Creosote Bushes

Native Americans used creosote bush for treatment of at least 14 different ailments, according to ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan, including colds, chest infections or lung congestion, intestinal discomfort (including worms), stomach cramps associated with delayed menstruation, sickness, wounds, toxins, swollen limbs owing to poor circulation, dandruff, body odor, distemper, and postnasal drip.

  • Tuberculosis, chickenpox, dysmenorrhea, and snakebite were all believed to be cured with it by Native Americans in the Southwest.
  • Native Americans even used the bush as firewood.
  • The creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) was utilized by the Coahuila Indians to treat digestive problems and disease.
  • The Pima used boiling leaves as poultices on wounds and sores and drank a decoction of the leaves as an emetic.
  • It was used by the Tohono O'odham Indians to treat stiff limbs, snake bites, and menstruation cramps.
  • In Mexico, the bush is still frequently used as a medicinal herb.
  • When used as a herbal cure or supplement, Larrea tridentata is commonly referred to as chaparral; nevertheless, it does not occur in the chaparral plant group.
  • Jackrabbits, desert woodrats as well as kangaroo rats consume creosote bush.
  • To make creosote tea, place a sprig of its leaves and flowers in a mug. Add boiling water, cover for 5-10 minutes (depending on strength desired), then simply strain. You may also add honey to sweeten the tea.
  • It is noteworthy that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued health warnings about the dangers of swallowing chaparral or utilizing it as internal medicine and strongly advises against doing so.
  • Health Canada issued a warning to consumers in 2005, advising them to avoid using the leaves of Larrea species due to the risk of liver and kidney damage.

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Written by Oluniyi Akande

Doctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

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Oluniyi AkandeDoctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

With an accomplished background as a Veterinarian, SEO content writer, and public speaker, Oluniyi brings a wealth of skills and experience to his work. Holding a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan, he provides exceptional consulting services to pet owners, animal farms, and agricultural establishments. Oluniyi's impressive writing career spans over five years, during which he has produced over 5000 high-quality short- and long-form pieces of content. His versatility shines through as he tackles a diverse array of topics, including pets, real estate, sports, games, technology, landscaping, healthcare, cosmetics, personal loans, debt management, construction, and agriculture.

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