Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Dasylirion wheeleri
Desert spoon on the edge of Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Stan Shebs.


SPECIES: Dasylirion wheeleri
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tesky, Julie L. 1993. Dasylirion wheeleri. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions : Photo added on 17 December 2014.
ABBREVIATION : DASWHE SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : DAWH2 COMMON NAMES : desert spoon spoon-flower spoon-leaf sotol Wheeler sotol TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of desert spoon is Dasylirion wheeleri S. Wats. [7,10,21]. LIFE FORM : Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Dasylirion wheeleri
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Desert spoon occurs from western Texas to southern Arizona and Mexico [11,21]. In Arizona it occurs from the Mazatzal and Quivari mountains in Pima County to Greenlee and Cochise counties. In New Mexico desert spoon occurs on the Gila River and Rio Grande drainages from Socorro County southward and eastward to the White Mountain, Lincoln County. In Texas it occurs in the Trans-Pecos region and western parts of the Edwards Plateau [24]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES30 Desert shrub FRES32 Texas savanna FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub FRES40 Desert grasslands STATES : AZ NM TX MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 7 Lower Basin and Range 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K033 Chaparral K040 Saltbush - greasewood K041 Creosotebush K042 Creosotebush - bursage K043 Paloverde - cactus shrub K044 Creosotebush - tarbush K045 Ceniza shrub K046 Desert: vegetation largely lacking K053 Grama - galleta steppe K054 Grama - tobosa prairie K057 Galleta - three-awn shrubsteppe K058 Grama - tobosa shrubsteppe K059 Trans-Pecos shrub savanna K060 Mesquite savanna K061 Mesquite - acacia savanna K062 Mesquite - live oak savanna K087 Mesquite - oak savanna SAF COVER TYPES : 68 Mesquite 72 Southern scrub oak 241 Western live oak 242 Mesquite SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Dasylirion wheeleri
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : The sugary trunks and leaf bases of desert spoon have been used to feed cattle during droughts [14,24]. Ranchers also burn the leaves and split the short, round flower heads of desert spoon for cattle feed [21]. Bighorn sheep browse desert spoon [7]. PALATABILITY : NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE : NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE : NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : NO-ENTRY OTHER USES AND VALUES : Desert spoon has a variety of uses [24,21]. The Indians and Mexicans prepared an alcoholic drink known as sotol by roasting the flower head in a pit for 24 hours and then distilling the expressed juice. The leaves are used to make mats, baskets, ropes, thatch, and paper [11,21,24]. The broad spoonlike leafbase is often used in dried floral arrangements [11]. Desert spoon is also grown as an ornamental [21]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Dasylirion wheeleri
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Desert spoon is a large, native, desert leaf succulent shrub [2,21,24]. The slender leaves are basally clumped. The leaves are 0.8 to 1.6 inches (2-4 cm) wide at the base and have prickles on the margins [24]. The trunk may be up to 3 feet (0.91 m) high, and is either partially buried or above ground [21]. The flowers are on a long terminal panicle 6 to 17 feet (1.8-5.2 m) high; those on the staminate plants are composed of dense catkinlike spikes [7,11]. Information on the longevity and root system of desert spoon is not available in the literature. However, Cannon [26] describes a similar species (Dasylirion texanum) as having a large number of roots, each about 0.2 inch (0.5 cm) in diameter, formed at the base of the stem. The roots run downward at an acute angle and also extend out into the soil in a more or less horizontal direction. The roots are coarse and are found between 5.9 to 14.1 inches (15-36 cm) below the surface. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Sexual reproduction - Desert spoon plants are dioecious. They produce thousands of tiny flowers in a long narrow cluster [11]. The seed is contained in a one-celled, three-winged capsule [7]. Desert spoon is cold tolerant and will easily grow from seed [16,21]. Vegetative reproduction - Desert spoon can reproduce vegetatively by sprouting from a thick, woody, mostly subterranean caudex [7]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Desert spoon grows on hillsides and slopes in chaparral, desert and semidesert grasslands and southwestern oak (Quercus) woodland communities at 3,000 to 5,000 feet (914-1,524 m) in elevation [24,21]. Subsurface water is generally not available. The soil is shallow, rocky, or gravelly with good drainage [24]. In Trans-Pacos, Texas, desert spoon is commonly found growing on limestone and granite [14]. Desert spoon is commonly found associated with turpentine bush (Haplopappus laricifolius), sacahuista (Nolina microcarpa), scrub oak (Quercus turbinella), Arizona oak (Q. arizonicus), hollyleaf oak (Q. wilcoxii), desert ceanothus (Ceanothus greggii), true mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus), banana yucca (Yucca baccata), grama (Bouteloua spp.), feather grass (Andropogon saccharoides), silver feather grass (Muhlenbergia emersleyi), deer grass (M. rigens), and manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) [4,13,25]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Desert spoon occurs in seral, climax, and postclimax communities. In the desert plains grasslands it is often subdominant in the beargrass-scrub oak postclimax community and the curly mesquite (Hilaria belangeri)-blue grama climax community [23]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Desert spoon generally flowers in spring or early summer [8,14,21]. In the Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico, initiation of flower buds began in mid- to late May. Flowering occurred in June and July, and fruits were mature by August [8].


SPECIES: Dasylirion wheeleri
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Desert spoon is moderately sensitive to fire [22]. It occurs in desert communities that are subject to naturally occurring fire [18]. Desert spoon is a survivor species capable of sprouting from an aboveground caudex when burnt [19]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Caudex, growing points in soil


SPECIES: Dasylirion wheeleri
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : The ability of desert spoon to survive fire is dependent upon the frequency and intensity of fire. Severe fires can greatly reduce desert spoon. On burnt sites in the desert grasslands of Arizona, White [22] reported that all of the moderately or lightly fire damaged plants survived the fire while only 3 percent of the severely damaged plants survived. Eleven and a half months after a fire in a semidesert grassland near the Sierrita Mountains, Arizona, mortality of desert spoon was 47 percent on burnt sites and 0 percent on the control site [19]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Desert spoon populations may suffer high mortality after a severe fire. However, if the plant survives, it may sprout from a short aboveground caudex [19,22]. After a semidesert grassland fire in southern Arizona, the 71 desert spoon plants that survived had apical regrowth. No seedlings were found even after 11 postfire months [19]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Desert spoon occurs in desert grasslands which are being increasingly managed by using fire [19]. In these areas, fire is primarily used to reverse dense scrub invasion and stimulate grass production. Control of desert spoon would vary with the conditions and type of burn [22].


SPECIES: Dasylirion wheeleri
REFERENCES : 1. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 2. Brown, David E. 1982. Chihuahuan desertscrub. In: Brown, David E., ed. Biotic communities of the American Southwest--United States and Mexico. Desert Plants. 4(1-4): 169-179. [3607] 3. Brown, David E. 1982. Semidesert grassland. In: Brown, David E., ed. Biotic communities of the American Southwest--United States and Mexico. Desert Plants. 4(1-4): 123-131. [3603] 4. Dick-Peddie, W. A.; Moir, W. H. 1970. Vegetation of the Organ Mountains, New Mexico. Science Series No. 4. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University, Range Science Department. 28 p. [6699] 5. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 6. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 7. Kearney, Thomas H.; Peebles, Robert H.; Howell, John Thomas; McClintock, Elizabeth. 1960. Arizona flora. 2d ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1085 p. [6563] 8. Kemp, Paul R. 1983. Phenological patterns of Chihuahuan desert plants in relation to the timing of water availability. Journal of Ecology. 71: 427-436. [5054] 9. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 10. Laferriere, Joseph E. 1991. Dasylirion wheeleri var. durangense: a new combination in the Nolinaceae. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 78(2): 516-520. [15171] 11. MacMahon, James A. 1985. The Audubon Society nature guides: Deserts. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 638 p. [4956] 12. Mahgoub, El Fatih; Pieper, Rex D.; Ortiz, Melchor. 1988. Use of leader lengths and diameters to estimate production and utilization of Cercocarpus breviflorus. Journal of Range Management. 41(2): 153-155. [348] 13. Pase, Charles P.; Brown, David E. 1982. Interior chaparral. In: Brown, David E., ed. Biotic communities of the American Southwest--United States and Mexico. Desert Plants. 4(1-4): 95-99. [1826] 14. Powell, A. Michael. 1988. Trees & shrubs of Trans-Pecos Texas including Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks. Big Bend National Park, TX: Big Bend Natural History Association. 536 p. [6130] 15. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 16. Steenbergh, Warren F.; Lowe, Charles H. 1983. Ecology of the saguaro: III. Growth and demography. Scientific Monograph Series Number 17. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 228 p. [5212] 17. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern Rocky Mountain forests. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; RWU 4403 files. 7 p. [20090] 18. Thomas, P. A. 1991. Response of succulents to fire: a review. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 1(1): 11-22. [14991] 19. Thomas, P. A.; Goodson, P. 1992. Conservation of succulents in desert grasslands managed by fire. Biological Conservation. 60(2): 91-100. [19894] 20. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1982. National list of scientific plant names. Vol. 1. List of plant names. SCS-TP-159. Washington, DC. 416 p. [11573] 21. Vines, Robert A. 1960. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of the Southwest. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 1104 p. [7707] 22. White, Larry D. 1969. Effects of a wildfire on several desert grassland shrub species. Journal of Range Management. 22: 284-285. [2532] 23. Whitfield, Charles J.; Anderson, Hugh L. 1938. Secondary succession in the desert plains grassland. Ecology. 19(2): 171-180. [5252] 24. Benson, Lyman; Darrow, Robert A. 1981. The trees and shrubs of the Southwestern deserts. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press. [18066] 25. Niering, William A.; Lowe, Charles H. 1984. Vegetation of the Santa Catalina Mountains: community types and dynamics. Vegetatio. 58: 3-28. [12037] 26. Cannon, William Austin. 1911. The root habits of desert plants. Washington, DC: The Carnegie Institution of Washington. 96 p. [5003]

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