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Desert Creosote Bush Facts

By John Lindell ; Updated September 21, 2017

The desert creosote bush is a predominant plant in the Southwest desert ecosystem, equipped to handle the extreme arid conditions that can prevent other plants from flourishing. Desert creosote bush takes its name from the pungent aroma that arises from the foliage after a desert rainstorm, a fragrance that smells like camphor. Creosote bush is a shrub that has adapted to its environment, from its root system to its leaves.


The largest creosote bushes will attain 12 feet in height, but most are smaller--in the range of 3 to 4 feet tall. The leaves are undersized compared to other plants, from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch long, and they have a greenish-yellow shade to them. The leaves have a waxy look and are thick. The multiple stems that emerge from the roots of a creosote bush angle away from the bottom of the shrub. The inch-wide flowers will bloom from late winter to late summer and have contorted yellow petals. The flowers develop into a fuzzy whitish seedpod that holds five separate seeds.


In the United States, the desert creosote bush occurs in the Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert. The shrub grows from southern portions of Nevada and the most southerly areas of Utah into southeast California, southern Arizona and New Mexico and in sections of western Texas. The shrub also exists into Mexico. Creosote bush grows at elevations less than 4,000 feet, says the DesertUSA website, and it exists on hilly slopes as well as the desert plains.


No other perennial plant on the North American continent withstands the effects of drought better than the desert creosote bush, says the Desert Ecology site. The plant can lack any water but still survive for as long as two years, with the key to this lying in the structure of its leaves. The leaves have the thick and waxy coating to hold moisture in, are small and therefore lose little water to transpiration, and the leaves can change to brown during low water scenarios but still function and keep the plant alive.

Creosote Roots

An individual desert creosote plant can live for as long as 200 years, and the shrub continually regenerates itself by developing new shoots from its root system. The oldest central stems will perish as the cloned new ones grow from the outer parts of the root crown. The roots exist well away from the plant, barely beneath the surface as they garner any available moisture that may fall from the sky. The desert creosote bush, in sandy ground, will put down a deep taproot to take advantage of any subterranean water.


Only the jackrabbit will even attempt to eat the leaves of desert creosote bushes, as the taste prevents other creatures from feeding upon the plant. The shrub provides needed shade for plants such as cacti to flourish in. Insects like crickets and grasshoppers use desert creosote for cover. A variety of treatments for maladies ranging from diarrhea to gout come from this plant, as the Native Americans used the leaves and other parts of the plant for medicinal purposes.


About the Author


John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.