Dasylirion Wheeleri Care: How To Grow Desert Spoon

Dasylirion wheeleri, aka desert spoon or common sotol, is a gorgeous addition to a drought-tolerant garden. Our guide provides care tips!

Common sotol surrounded by other native foliage

Contents

Dasylirion is a small genus consisting of 22 different semi-succulent species of plants. It lies under the family Nolinaceae. These plants are found along dry washes, arid lands, and on rocky hillsides where the soil is porous and fast draining in Mexico, up to Arizona, western Texas, and New Mexico.

Even though this plant looks ferocious at first sight, you can tame it and use it to add an elegant effect to your gardens. Dasylirion wheeleri looks amazing as part of a desert-themed landscape or a xeriscape garden in arid environments. You may already know it’s used to make sotol, a fragrant alcoholic drink.

In this article, we will be giving you a complete roundup of everything you need to know to grow and care for this attractive evergreen succulent.

Quick Care Guide

Common sotol surrounded by other native foliage
Common sotol surrounded by other native foliage.
Common Name(s)Desert spoon, spoon flower, or common sotol, blue sotol, grey desert spoon, spoon yucca
Scientific Name Dasylirion wheeleri var. wheeleri
Family Nolinaceae
Height & SpreadUp to 5 feet tall and about 16″ in diameter
LightFull sun
SoilLight and sandy to medium and loamy
WaterVery low
Pests & DiseasesRoot rot

All About Dasylirion Wheeleri

A mourning dove sitting on a nest in a desert spoon plant
A mourning dove sitting on a nest in a desert spoon plant.

Desert spoon, common sotol, or the sotol plant are all common plant names for Dasylirion wheeleri. This long-lived native of the Chiahuahuan Desert of northern Mexico has been naturalized as far north as southern Arizona, western Texas, and New Mexico. This evergreen succulent shows off its large rosette of serrated blue to grayish-green leaves radiating out in a circular axis from the tall stem. The leaf ends tend to become frizzy. Along with serrated leaf margins, the plant has an overall hazy texture.

Dasylirion wheeleri is one of the species in this genus. It’s native to the arid lands of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It’s a slow to moderate-growing perennial shrub with a single trunk that has no branches. Its upright sword-shaped leaves look stunning. Due to the inward curvature at the leaf bases, one of its common names is desert spoon.

The leaf blades are grayish-green in color. They are long, slender, and have toothed margins. The stout short trunk that develops on mature plants grows from 9 to 15 feet tall. They are harvested for multiple reasons in the wilds among Arizona flora, Mexican forbs, and Texan prairies and deserts. Because of over-harvesting, they’re now salvage restricted. Some plants live for up to 100 years.

Once the plant is mature, it blooms in early summer with a pole-like stalk of tiny flowers. Flowering occurs only every few years on flower spikes of clustered tiny blooms that grow in late spring to summer. The color of the flower indicates the gender of the plant. Male flowers are creamy yellow hues, while female flowers are purple-pink.

These striking features have helped the plant win the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit. As the name suggests, this plant is used to make an alcoholic beverage called sotol, which has a long history of consumption among the people of Mexico, who first cultivated the root of the plant for the beverage 300 years ago.

Dasylirion Wheeleri Care

Dasylirion wheeleri in its native desert habitat under blue skies
Dasylirion wheeleri in its native desert habitat.

Common sotol or spoon is a slow-growing, durable, carefree and drought-tolerant plant native to arid lands. Here are some specific care requirements for this perennial succulent xeriscape plant.

Light & Temperature

These plants are sun-loving and native to hot climates. Therefore, it’s best to grow the common sotol shrub in full sun. They can tolerate partial sun as well. The plant is hardy in USDA Zones 8-11. They prefer higher temperatures but will show some heat stress above 100°F. The plants cannot stand very long periods of frost.

They should be grown in areas where the temperature doesn’t go below 0°F in winter. Consistent exposure to these temperatures can kill a plant. Since it’s difficult to grow indoors, you may want to drape a frost blanket of some kind over the plant if sub-freezing temperatures persist.

Water & Humidity

This plant is drought-tolerant and prefers dry conditions so it has little watering needs. Give it 1 inch of water per week upon establishment. You may have to water regularly but during an extended drought in hot summers. After establishment, don’t apply extra water. Avoid watering the crown, as that may result in root rot. During winter, you can reduce the frequency of watering even further. Most of the time, natural precipitation is enough for this plant.

Soil

Common sotol likes porous soils such as garden loam soil, sandy soil, and clay soil. These plants require higher concentrations of sand that provide fast drainage. The preferable pH range for the soil is between 5.5 and 6.7. A soil test can tell you if you’re in that range.

Spoon Flower Fertilizer

Pollen stems and flowers of Dasylirion wheeleri
Pollen stems and flowers of Dasylirion wheeleri.

You don’t really need to fertilize the plant, as it can tolerate poor soils. However, light spring fertilization with a balanced formula will ensure good growth. Young common sotol plants benefit from a high phosphorus fertilizer applied sparingly in the first year of growth. This helps them establish their roots in the soil.

Common Sotol Propagation

You can propagate the plant by seeds or by cuttings. Growing it from seeds is quite time-consuming as germination and establishment are slow. Instead, take a cutting from a parent plant with sterilized shears. Choose a plant that’s at least a few feet tall and a few years old. Set the cutting in a dry place out of direct sunlight to allow a callous to form over the cut.

Plant it in a small pot in the same soil used to grow the parent plant, and lightly water. Keep the container in a bright, dry area. Within 2 to 4 weeks, you’ll have a baby sotol plant.

Pruning Dasylirion Wheeleri

Being a slow grower, the plant does not require pruning as such. You can remove dried, spent flowers as needed. Prune out dried, yellow or senescent lower leaves any time of the year. Try not to prune otherwise, as this can damage your plant. Always wear gloves when you remove dead leaves to protect your hands from serrations on the fresh green leaves.

Troubleshooting

Spikes of desert spoon plant (common sotol)
Spikes of desert spoon plant.

There are no serious growing problems with Dasylirion wheeleri. You just have to make sure that the soil in which they’re growing drains well. Chronically wet soil can lead to root rot.

Growing Problems

Serious growing problems don’t occur unless you’ve planted your common sotol in the wrong conditions. Ensure it has well-draining soil, full sun, and not too much water, and you’re set.

Pests

There are no known issues of pests with this plant.

Diseases

The plant does not suffer from any particular disease. High humidity or overly wet soil can sometimes lead to fungal infections of root rot. There is no treatment for root rot once it sets in – while plants may be dug up and the rotten roots removed, this is often more traumatic for the plant than it’s worth. It’s easier to ensure the soil drains well from the start. Remember, these plants are desert-dwellers and aren’t accustomed to lots of moisture.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tufted growth habit of sotol
Tufted growth habit of sotol.

Q: Do Dasylirion wheeleri plants flower every year?

A: No, these plants don’t bloom every year. They will produce flowers once every three to five years.

Q: Why are my Dasylirion wheeleri leaves turning yellow?

A: This usually occurs due to root rot, as these plants are quite sensitive to moisture and humidity. Make sure you have planted them in well-draining soil. Also, keep the watering frequency to a minimum. The soil should be completely dry in between waterings.

Q: Is Dasylirion Wheeleri an agave?

A: No. It’s a member of the Nolinaceae family, much like Nolina and Beaucarnea.

Q: Is a desert spoon a yucca?

A: While it appears to be a yucca, it’s technically not. It’s classed in a different plant family.

Q: Why is it called desert spoon?

A: This is related to the spoon-like indentations on its leaf bases.

Q: How do you prune Dasylirion?

A: Prune the dried-out leaves that develop at the base of the plant any time of year. No other pruning is needed.

Q: How often does a desert spoon bloom?

A: It only blooms every few years.

Q: Is desert spoon a succulent?

A: Yes! It’s an evergreen succulent plant that looks great in desert gardens.

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