Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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
1 rating

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

Small Tree or Shrub for Northern Virginia
March 04, 2011 - I live in Northern Virginia in the metro D.C. area and we just had a large pine tree topple over in the front of our house. We would like to replace it with a native evergreen that wouldn't grow up a...
view the full question and answer

Trimming Butterfly Plants
February 11, 2013 - I am looking for detailed information on trimming common butterfly plants: crucita, cenizo, sweet-stem, whitebrush, Mexican trixis, skeleton-leaf goldeneye, white plumbago, turk's cap, desert lantana...
view the full question and answer

Need shrubs to form a barrier fence to exclude large dogs in Huntsvile, TX.
August 26, 2009 - I'm seeking shrubs to form a barrier fence to strongly discourage free-roaming large dogs from entering a property in Huntsville, Texas. The site is currently just a grass yard basking in full sun, g...
view the full question and answer

Planting non-native sago palm and philodendron from Pflugerville TX
September 15, 2012 - I have a small/young sago palm and philodendron I'd like to plant. Do you advise to plant them now with fall/winter approaching or wait until next spring.
view the full question and answer

Evergreen groundcovers for NE NC
April 20, 2015 - Can you please provide a list of evergreen native groundcovers for Northeastern NC?
view the full question and answer

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