How to Grow Sotol Plants

Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) plant. Close-up photo with a shallow depth of field.

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The Sotol Plant (Dasylirion wheeleri) belongs to the family Asparagaceae. Dasylirion is a small genus made of 18 semi-succulent species that grow in the porous and fast-draining soil of dry washes, arid lands and rocky hillsides.

Closely related to the Agaves, the Dasylirions have been associated with other Agave-like plants such as Yuccas and Furcraeas. Native to the Chihuahuan Desert, the sotol species is sometimes called "spoon yucca". They grow across much of West Texas, in parts of the middle and lower Rio Grande Valley and the lower Pecos Valley in New Mexico, in parts of southeastern Arizona, and in the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau.

Sotol is a moderate growing perennial shrub. Forming a large rosette of serrated blue to grayish-green long, slender leaves, their ends become frizzy. These tufts create a blurred texture to the eye amid such especially rigid leaves. Reddish-brown spines often form along the margins of the leaves. An inward curve at the leaf base inspires the common names of "desert spoon and "grey desert spoon." Each leaf is one inch wide and three feet long. A large clump of leaves and what's called a "skirt" of dead leaves covers the central stubby trunk. The foliage grows up to seven feet tall and six feet wide.

When the plant is about seven to 10 years old, it begins to produce showy flowers. Bees and hummingbirds are fond of these blooms, which call to them from 9- to 15- foot tall pole-like stalks in late spring or summer every few years.

Female plants showcase purplish-pink flowers from which seeds come, while the flowers of male plants are creamy yellow. Both types of flowers eventually bear dry three-winged shell fruits.

Botanical Name Dasylirion wheeleri
Common Names Sotol, Desert Spoon, Common Sotol, Spoon Flower, Grey Desert Spoon, Blue Sotol, Spoon Yucca, Wheeler's Sotol
Plant Type Perennial evergreen semi-succulent shrub
Mature Size 20 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Light and sandy to medium and loamy
Soil pH Neutral to Acidic
Bloom Time Late spring to summer every few years
Flower Color Creamy yellow (male), Purplish pink (female)
Hardiness Zones 8, 9, 10 (USDA)
Native Area North America (Chiahuahuan Desert of northern Mexico)
Toxicity Non-toxic

Sotol Plant Care

Welcome this North American desert treasure to any southwest landscape. Overall, it is very low-maintenance. The sharp spines (called "teeth") along the leaves deter deer and may need to be tucked away from human traffic.

Plant it in places where it is challenging to grow other plants such as dry beds, foundation gardens, patios in direct sun, native plant areas, and rock gardens.

Arrange with three or more companion plants for a grand floral display. Pair with other perennials that attract pollinators like 'Husky Red' penstemons and, for texture, a Mexico Grass Tree (Dasylirion longissimum).

Light

Like most succulents, common sotol thrives in the full sun of its native habitat. It can also tolerate partial shade.

Soil

Establish in porous, fast-draining soil such as garden loam or sand with a neutral to acidic pH range between 6 and 7. Avoid sites near the ocean, as sotol has a moderate to low salt tolerance. Only plant sotol in wet climates if the soil is very well-draining.

Water

Water regularly but sparingly in summer. Don't water the crown as doing so could cause root rot. Reduce watering in winter.

Temperature and Humidity

Preferring hot and dry conditions, common sotol is both heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant. High temperatures suit this plant best, though heat stress may occur at temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It cannot survive long periods of frost. Grow in an area where the temperature does not dip down below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

There is no need to fertilize this plant. An optional application of a balanced formula in spring will, however, ensure good growth.

Is the Sotol Plant Toxic?

Sotol is non-toxic. Some Native American tribes have a history of making food and drink from the central part of the plant.

With proper advice from a foraging professional, cook the crown of the plant and then dry it, pound it into a powder, and make a cake.

Peel the baked crown, crush, mix with water and then ferment as an alcoholic beverage still known as "Sotol" in parts of Southwest Texas and Northern Mexico. Another way of consuming it is to roast, boil, or eat the flowering stems raw.

Sotol Plant Varieties

  • Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) is the variety described in this guide.
  • Smooth Sotol (Dasylirion leiophyllum) produces clusters of small white flowers on the upper third of the sturdy, 5- to 20- foot tall bloom stalk. It is also hardy in USDA Zones 8-10.
  • Texas Sotol (Dasylirion texanum) has "fierce" spikes on its leaves. Flower stems grow 9- to 15- feet tall with clusters of blooms from May through August in many areas across USDA Zones 8-10.

Pruning

Sotol rarely produces any litter. Since it grows so slowly, pruning is rarely needed. Remove dried spent flowers if needed. Prune dried or yellowed lower leaves any time of year.

Propagating Sotol Plants

Propagate by seeds or cuttings. Know that seeds germinate slowly and establishing seedlings can be quite time-consuming.

Potting and Repotting Sotol Plants

Because this plant cannot survive very cold winters, gardeners outside of the recommended hardiness zones grow them in containers. Choose a pot that is large enough for the plant to grow to its mature size. Sotol does not do well being transplanted or repotted often. As with the soil in the ground, make sure the potting mix and the container itself are well-draining.

Common Pests/Diseases

There are no known pests or diseases. If the soil is not well-drained, root rot can be a problem. Overly high humidity or wet soil could cause fungal infection. In this case, use a fungicidal treatment and be sure to maintain proper air circulation and good soil drainage. Follow the advice above, and Sotol will live a long life of 25 to 50 years.