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What Is a Desert Spoon?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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Desert spoon is a flowering plant native to the American Southwest and found across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. This plant prefers arid conditions and is grown ornamentally in desert and low-water gardens. In nature, it can grow extremely large, sometimes exceeding 15 feet (about 4.5 meters) in height, while gardeners tend to keep it pruned and compact. Nurseries and garden supply stores specializing in succulents and other drought-tolerant plants may carry desert spoon, or can order it by request.

Known formally as Dasylirion wheeleri, this plant is also sometimes referred to by common names like sotol, blue sotol, and common sotol. It produces a symmetrical sphere of spiky leaves fanning out from a central trunk. The foliage tends to be stiff, but has some flexibility. In young plants, the leaves can take the shape of a half-dome until the trunk develops more length. Flowers are produced on tall stalks in dense creamy white clusters that appeal to bees.

This plant can be readily grown from seed. Desert spoon gets quite large under good growing conditions and it should be planted with care, as the trunks can tend to grow sideways rather than upright and the plants may splay across the landscape. It can be a good specimen or background planting in the garden and is not suitable for edges and borders unless gardeners are willing to clip it aggressively to keep it small.

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Dry climates in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones eight through 11 are generally suitable for growing desert spoon. The plant likes well-drained soil of medium quality and does not tend to attract pests, although in addition to bees, other insects can hover around the plant while it is in flower. Other succulents make excellent companion plantings, as do cacti, and the plant can also be used in rock gardens to add greenery and color.

People sometimes mistake desert spoon for yucca and other relatives. The plant's blue-green foliage and spoon-shaped leaf bases are important visual clues for accurate identification. This plant has historically been used to produce a drink known as sotol, made by removing and roasting the core of the plant and then fermenting it. Desert spoon is also edible; the fleshy base at the bottom of each leaf is palatable after steaming, boiling, or roasting and can be eaten plain or added to other dishes, depending on the taste of the cook.

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