En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - August 09, 2011

From: Arcilla, CA
Region: California
Topic: Medicinal Plants, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs
Title: What gives the Creosote bush its characteristic smell?
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Good evening, Mr. Smarty Plants, There is a question which I would please like to ask regarding a plant called "Creosote Bush" (Larrea tridentata)- does it actually smell like the creosote preservative solution used to preserve railroad crossties and utility poles? Best regards,

ANSWER:

Indeed, the characteristic creosote smell emanating from the Larrea tridentata (Creosote bush) is caused by the same chemical compounds used for preserving crossties and utility poles.  But don't worry, the bulk of wood-preservative compounds are derived mainly from coal and petroleum, not by grinding up acres of pretty Larrea.  Creosote from Larrea gets its smell largely from phenolic compounds, such as cresol.  This is also what you smell from wood preservatives.  The phenolic compounds, along with a mixture of many other volatile oils (not necessarily the exact same ones found in coal and petroleum), evaporate readily into the air in tiny amounts, especially in warm weather.  Rainfall seems to enhance the release of volatile oils from Larrea.

If the creosote smells "medicinal" to you, it did to many others in the past, and Larrea extracts have been used to treat various ailments.  Mr. Smarty Plants urges you to resist the temptation.

 

From the Image Gallery


Creosote bush
Larrea tridentata

Creosote bush
Larrea tridentata

More Medicinal Plants Questions

Medicinal uses of Orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
August 28, 2005 - What is the best way to extract the juice from the jewelweed plant? And, what can you do with it after that? I know it is considered a remedy for poison ivy and various other skin irritations. So then...
view the full question and answer

Treating stings from stinging nettles in Indiana
August 08, 2009 - How can I remove hairlike thorns (as from nettle-type weed)? My hands react within 24 hours with swelling and pain, esp in morning. In past when I have then been able to locate the offending thorn, th...
view the full question and answer

Dog eats Celtis laevigata, sugar hackberry
May 21, 2012 - This is an odd question but I am a biologist and have for years notice an odd behavior in my Golden Retriever. When he gets stomach distress or something makes him nervous like an incoming thunderstor...
view the full question and answer

How to grow Blue Cohosh in Lewisville TX
May 05, 2010 - I bought Blue Cohosh seeds from an online website, but I do not know how or where to plant them and what will guarantee germination, and the instructions that came with the package are very vague. The...
view the full question and answer

Tilo (Justicia pectoralis), a tropical American plant
December 03, 2008 - Re: keelo plant (Seminole, Fl. herb used to treat stomachache-St. Pete), try Tilo: Justicia pectoralis
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center