It is easy to take the Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) for granted in the Southwest. In some desert regions they occur in the millions, and thankfully the human race hasn’t yet figured out an economic use for the plants. They don’t even photograph well; their leaves are small and they tend to blend into the landscape.
These shrubs are survivors. The leaves are small and leathery and the plants make good use of what rain might fall. The Spanish name for the plant is Gobernadora, the Governess, which is thought to refer to the shrub’s dominance of the ground they occupy. Few other plants can compete with a Creosote Bush, even others of the same species, and they tend to grow well-spaced from each other, in aromatic orchard-like arrays.
Another Spanish name for the shrub is Hediondilla, which could be roughly translated as “Little Stinker”. Whoever came up with this uncomplimentary name must have been new to the desert! The odor of the leaves is an acquired taste, I admit. Some adjectives which come to mind are: astringent, resinous, medicinal, and sharp — but I’m sure you have noticed that the English language is notoriously ill-equipped for describing odors! Whenever I encounter Larrea I enjoy picking a few leaves, crushing them, and inhaling the scent.
After a rain the Creosote Bushes gratefully open their stomata and their odor wafts onto the breezes. This scent mixes with the odors released from the pollen grains and other organic detritus in the soil, and the commingled smells contribute to the sense of well-being desert residents enjoy after a rain-shower.
On our property in the Sulphur Springs Valley there is just an acre or so of Creosote Bush. On a recent visit I noticed that the bushes were beginning their blooming period. The yellow blossoms are pretty and distinctive, but they are difficult to photograph in situ, as the limber branches bob and wave in the slightest breeze. I snipped off a flowering branch and took it back to Bisbee with me. The branch has continued to open new flowers here on a windowsill (in a cup with some water) and I shot a few photos.