Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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 Shrubs Questions

Shrubs for Privacy Fence in Hawaii
July 06, 2016 - I live in Hawaii and need to create some privacy along a wall of my house. The septic drain field is 5' away and I am looking for 6'-8' shrubs that have shallow roots. Would something like cordyline f...
view the full question and answer

Landscaping with native plants in Austin
October 06, 2005 - I'm expanding a flower bed in front of my house and would like to keep it all natives. 1) How do I find out what type of soil I should add? (I live near Hyde Park, Austin and haven't had a soil te...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting American Beautyberry from Elgin TX
August 04, 2012 - A friend wants me to take her American Beautyberry shrubs that are in containers, because she is moving and can't take them with her. I have to transport them in the back of a truck and am afraid th...
view the full question and answer

Black chokeberry edible from Huntsville ON
May 04, 2013 - Can the fruit of the black chokeberry be eaten??
view the full question and answer

Red bugs have appeared on my Texas mountain laurel
April 10, 2016 - What should I do about the red bugs on my mountain laurel?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.