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The Creosote Bush

Article ID: 33
Last updated: 13 Feb, 2022

The Creosote Bush produces a gold medal performance in terms of survival!  These are plants which offer almost limitless resistance to severe drought and wide temperature fluctuations.

They produce clones easily, and spread outwards by through new stems below soil level, as the central parent stems eventually die.  This way, the overall plant can survive as it clones itself  repeatedly over thousands of year

Eventually the bush forms a ring.  This ring can develop over a lifetime as high as 11,000 years.  Radiocarbon dating of ‘King Clone’, located in the the Mojave desert, shows evidence for this remarkable achievement

The Creosote Bush is also known as Chaparral, or Larrea tridentata.  It is found in the lower elevations of  Southwest USA, and is a common plant in the Lower Sonoran Desert.  It can grow up to 2 m high.   It has small, curved waxy leaves.  The leaves have an olive colour is olive but they turn a brown colour when there is a severe shortage of rainfall

The high concentration of resins reduce water loss by evaporation from the surface.  They also make sure that the leaves are virtually inedible to most animals attempting to eat them.  The chemical composition of the coating also has a shielding effect on the inner cells, from potentially damaging levels of ultra-violet light from the Sun. 

After rain has fallen, the leaves give off a characteristic odour, the 'smell of the desert' , which could have been the origin of the 'creosote' label to this plant.  In fact, the commercially produced creosote has no connection with this plant, other than the smell! The plant produces yellow flowers, which attract pollinating bees and other insects.  The white fluffy balls also grow on the twigs, and these are blown away by strong wind, or they attach to clothing or fur, to enable the seeds to be distributed. 

Used for many years by Native Americans in medicinal applications, Chaparral is distributed as a tea, and is also available in tablet or capsule forms.  There is evidence that the plant can provide medicinal properties, such as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory application, and an anti-carcinogenic.  However, recent events have suggested that possible serious effects health problems could occur, when used as a dietary supplement.  This includes acute non-viral hepatitis, associated with liver damage.  Some Chaparrel products have already been withdrawn from distribution, but further clarification is being sought about the safety of the remaining products. 

The root system is deep and wide, and the plant is able to provide a stable earth environment for local populations of small rodents and insects.  The root system provides a reinforcement/binder of the soil particles, similar to the construction of a composite material.  The small rodents live beneath the Creosote Bush during the searing temperatures of the midday sun, and they forage in the early morning, or as dusk approaches. 

The bushes also provide some degree of shelter for animals from the heat, and from the view of predators.

Article ID: 33
Last updated: 13 Feb, 2022
Revision: 2
Views: 96
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