By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
What is Dasylirion? Desert sotol is an architectural marvel of a plant. Its upright, sword-shaped leaves resemble a yucca, but they curve inward at the base giving them the name desert spoon. Belonging to the genus Dasylirion, the plant is native to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The plant makes an excellent accent in southwestern gardens and desert landscapes. Learn how to grow sotol and enjoy this desert beauty in your garden.
An almost ferocious-looking plant, sotol is drought tolerant and a wild desert treasure. It has traditional uses as a fermented drink, building material, fabric, and cattle fodder. The plant can also be tamed and used to elegant effect in the garden as part of a xeriscape or desert-themed landscape.
Dasylirion can grow 7 feet tall (2 m.) with a flowering spike an astounding 15 feet (4.5 m.) in height. The dark green-gray leaves are slender and adorned with sharp teeth at the edges. The foliage arches out from a central stubby trunk, giving the plant a slightly rounded appearance.
The flowers are dioecious, creamy white, and very attractive to bees. Sotol plants do not flower until they are 7 to 10 years old and even when they do it is not always an annual event. Bloom period is spring to summer and the resulting fruit is a 3-winged shell.
Among the interesting sotol plant information is its use as a human food. The spoon-like base of the leaf was roasted and then pounded into cakes that were eaten fresh or dried.
Full sun is necessary for growing Dasylirion, as well as well-draining soil. The plant is suitable for United States Department of Agriculture zones 8 through 11 and is adapted to a variety of soils, heat, and drought once established.
You may try growing Dasylirion from seed but germination is spotty and erratic. Use a seed warming mat and plant soaked seed for best results. In the garden, sotol is pretty self-sufficient but supplementary water is needed in hot, dry summers.
As leaves die and are replaced, they droop around the base of the plant, forming a skirt. For a tidier appearance, prune off dead leaves. The plant has few pest or disease issues, although fungal foliar diseases do occur in overly wet conditions.
Dasylirion leiophyllum – One of the smaller sotol plants at only 3 feet (1 m.) tall. Greenish-yellow foliage and reddish-brown teeth. Leaves are not pointed but rather more frayed looking.
Dasylirion texanum – A native of Texas. Extremely heat tolerant. May produce creamy, green blooms.
Dasylirion wheeleri – The classic desert spoon with long bluish-green foliage.
Dasylirion acrotriche – Green leaves, slightly more delicate than D. texanum.
Dasylirion quadrangulatum – Also known as Mexican grass tree. Stiffer, less arching green leaves. Smooth edges on foliage.
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Dasylirion wheeleri (Spoon flower) will reach a height of 6m and a spread of 1m after 10-20 years.
Mediterranean, Foliage only, Drought Tolerant, Containers, Conservatory, City, Beds and borders, Architectural
Grow under glass in a mix of two parts each sand and loam with one part leaf mould and peat substitute in full light and low humidity. In growth, water freely & feed monthly from spring to autumn. Keep just moist in winter. Outdoors in frost-free areas, grow in well-drained soil in a sheltered, sunny site.
Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy (will tolerate most soil types)
Indoor unheated (H2), Tender in frost (H3)
We do not currently have companion plants added for this plant.
Spoon flower, Silver desert spoon, Common sotol, Desert candle, Wheeler's blue sotol
D. wheeleri - D. wheeleri is a compact, tender, evergreen tree forming a dense, terminal rosette of linear, silvery-grey to grey-green leaves with hooked spines along the margins. Erect stems bear narrow panicles of bell-shaped, white flowers in summer.
Rosette, Erect flower stem, Spiky
RHS AGM (Award of Garden Merit)
Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Plant has spines or sharp edges use extreme caution when handling
From seed direct sow after last frost
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Vista, California(9 reports)
Albuquerque, New Mexico(3 reports)
Elephant Butte, New Mexico
Emerald Isle, North Carolina
Simpsonville, South Carolina
On Dec 24, 2014, 1077011947 from Greer, SC wrote:
. love this plant. It is the centerpiece of my Xeric bed with Agave, hesperaloe, yucca, iceplant, opuntia, Echeveria 'Topsy Turvy' and others. Beautiful!
On May 29, 2012, JulioABQ from Albuquerque, NM wrote:
This plant does very well in the high desert where winter temperatures can dip to the low single digits and even negative numbers and at the same time summer temperatures can reach innthe 100's with constant droughts. Here in Albuquerque, NM they are planted all over and do very well.
On Dec 1, 2006, Xenomorf from Phoenix, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:
I've seen these growing in the wild in Tonto Basin, AZ Oracle AZ and on the West Ruby Road Trail in Arizona (South of Tucson), off of Interstate 19 through to Ruby, AZ and on to Arivaca, AZ.
On Sep 2, 2006, thistlesifter from Vista, CA wrote:
This specimen was grown from tiny seedling for over 20 years in this location. It has flowered once before and will split now to 4 heads over time. It splits upon each flowering. Eventually under hard conditions, it should form a trunk. It is a beautiful light blue though not so visible in the attached photo.
Easy care in the right location. It is a valuable addition to almost any garden that has the space to accommodate it.
A favorite desert plant, I like it so much I purchased one for my yard.
On Jan 31, 2005, melody from Benton, KY (Zone 7a) wrote:
This species can be treated in the same manner as agaves to produce food and liquor (sotol) The tough leaves can be woven into mats and baskets and used for thatching.
The spoon like base is often used in dried flower arrangements.
It's range is Southern AZ, east to West TX , and also into Northern Mexico.
On Jan 20, 2005, cacti_lover from Henderson, NV (Zone 9b) wrote:
This plant is widely planted here in Henderson and it does very well. Very drought tollerant and good for xeriscaping. The leaves are indeed dangerous and should be planted away from foot traffic. This plant looks very handsome when the older lower leaves are cut off leaving the base bare. It resembles a pineapple. The bell-shaped white flowers are actually very small, but are clustered on a tall inflorescence that grows 8'-12' tall.
On Jul 25, 2003, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:
This species of Dasylirion is a little more commonly grown in southern California (U.S.) as specimen plants or additions to xeriscapes. It is called the Desert Spoon since its leaves are flat and slightly cupped, holding water at its spoon shaped base where it attaches to the trunk (It has to be removed to see this shape).
Unlike the other commonly grown species, D longissimus (quadrangularis), the leaves on this species are viciously spiny and can easily cause bleeding if just brushed up against. One of the reasons Dasylirions are used in landscaping is their unique geometically perfect globoid lumps with hundreds of perfectly arranged leaves coming out in all directions. Some D wheeleri have green leaves, but the more commonly planted specimens have blue-silver leaves. read more that make a great look in a garden with lots of green. The blue-silver plants also have a slight twist to their leaves, and they end in little brown tufts. Very old plants start to clump and look a bit messy. They produce enormous flowers that tower over the plant, reminiscent of Agaves.