Dasylirion wheeleri (desert spoon, spoon flower, sotol, or common sotol) is a species of flowering plant in the asparagus family Asparagaceae, native to arid environments of northern Mexico, in Chihuahua and Sonora and in the southwestern United States, in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, and also in New Mexico and Texas.
Dasylirion is a compound word from the Greek, literally meaning “dense” or “shaggy” + “lily”. The Latin specific epithet wheeleri refers to the American surveyor and plant collector George Montague Wheeler (1842-1905).
Dasylirion wheeleri is a moderate to slow-growing evergreen shrub with a single unbranched trunk up to 40 cm (16 in) thick growing to 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) tall, though often recumbent on the ground. The leaf blade is slender, 35–100 cm long, gray-green, with a toothed margin. The leaves radiate from the center of the plant's apex in all directions (spherical).
The flowering stem grows above the foliage, to a height of 5 m (16 ft) tall, and 3 cm in diameter. The stem is topped by a long plume of straw-colored small flowers about 2.5 cm long with six tepals. The color of the flower determinate the gender of the plant, being mostly white colored for males and purple-pink for females. The fruit is an oval dry capsule 5–8 mm long, containing a single seed.
Cultivation and uses
D. wheeleri is grown as an ornamental plant, valued in xeriscaping. As it does not tolerate extended frosts, in temperate regions it is usually grown under glass. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
The alcoholic drink sotol, the northern cousin to tequila and mezcal, is made from the fermented inner cores of the desert spoon. It is the state drink of the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila.
The Tarahumara and Pima Bajo peoples of the Sierra Madre Occidental of Chihuahua weave baskets from the leaves after they strip off the spines from the leaf margins. They also employ the expanded leaf bases in making large artificial flowers as holiday decorations.
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