There is a distinct smell in the desert, that only comes out on certain occasions. Most people associate this funny smell with something they long for in the desert… Rain! The creosote bush is a long living desert plant that inhabits the desert south west. Most creosote bushes can live to be over 100 years old (some in the Mohave and Sonora desert are over 10,000 years old!) and as adult plants are very drought resistant. One way creosote is able to live in arid regions is it has a waxy resin on the outside of it’s leaves to prevent water loss as well as keep animals from eating it. When it rains these resins are volatilized and give off a very distinct smell, which most people here refer to as the smell of rain. Creosote is very common here so the smell encompasses everything. It smells a bit like water on fresh asphalt to me but I am adjusting to enjoying the smell like a local.
Tonight, it started raining about 9:30 and the smell of creosote quickly emerged. Tomorrow morning the smell will linger on until the water is evaporated off by the hot desert sun.
The plant also has some medicinal uses such as, steam from the leaves was inhaled to relieve congestion. Tea made from the leaves is said to cure such ailments as flu, stomach cramps, cancer, coughs, colds, and others. Today the FDA discourages the use of creosote.
For now I am learning to appreciate the smell of creosote and enjoy the association with rain. When it rains here, it floods and not much of the rain soaks into the soil. Wildlife here has been very stressed due to the drought. There are many desert springs in the area but many have dried up and need the rain recharge.
Another stress to the water supply is us. We as humans pump water from the underground bolsons that also deplete the natural springs. Today, while doing some research I found this cool Water Footprint Calculator done by National Geographic. Try out this fun test! I think I am going to put together something like this for participants in our Internet Cafe in the Water Utilities Building at the El Paso Zoo. That way kids and adults can come in and find out their Water Footprint and ways to reduce it!
Here is one of the sample questions: A gallon (16 cups) of milk—from a cow—requires 880 gallons of water to produce. The average American consumes a cup of milk a day. How many cups of milk do you drink a day?
But for now… stop and smell the creosote!