A variety of Sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) found in Mexico’s Chihuahua region grows as far north as Arizona, New Mexico and extreme west Texas. A distillate made from the plant, also known as Sotol, is akin to Mezcal and Tequila, although those more familiar spirits are produced from a variety of agaves.
A succulent with long, spiny leaves, Sotol became known as ‘desert spoon’ because of concavities at the base of its leaves. Those leaves are edged with tiny, upward-pointing serrations, while its inflorescence consists of thousands of small, white flowers in a dense, vertical plume.
Another species of Sotol, Dasylirion texanum, is similar, and more common across Texas; Texas distillers are putting it to good use. One company near Austin, Desert Door, is producing a fully made-in-Texas Sotol; their website is well worth visiting — both for photos of our native Sotol and for information about their distilling process. The section related to conservation is especially interesting.
When I stopped to photograph the colorful oaks along the highway outside Bandera, I assumed I’d parked next to a species of Yucca. Later, when photos revealed the serrated edges of the leaves, they served as a first clue that I’d found Sotol — another reward for exploring unfamiliar territory.