A Spoonful of Sotol


Texas Sotol (Dasylirion texanum) and Texas oaks ~ Bandera County

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.

Tiny but dangerous spines on Texas Sotol

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.

Take a closer look ~ it might be Sotol, not Yucca

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.


Comments always are welcome.

Prickly But Pretty

Opuntia cacanapa ~ El Capote Ranch, Gonzales County

By early July, the peak flowering of assorted Texas cacti has come to an end. The plants — claret cup, lace, hedgehog — fade back into the landscape, and even the more obvious pencil cactus can be hard to spot without its bright red fruit.

Even the best-known of our cacti, the prickly pear, rarely shows deep summer blooms. Still, occasional plants were producing their delightful flowers across the Texas hill country the first weekend in July.

Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri  ~ Old Willow City Road, Gillespie county

There are more species of prickly pear than I’d ever imagined, and distinctions among them sometimes depend on such small details as the number and arrangement of spines and glochids: a part of the cactus that, once encountered, never is forgotten. Flower color isn’t the best guide for prickly pear, since color variation occurs in all species.

I’m relatively certain that the identification of the first cactus, O. cacanapa, is correct. It’s worth noting that German geologist Ferdinand Roemer, for whom so many of our plants are named, visited the El Capote ranch during his collecting trip to Texas in 1845-1847.

While the other identifications are ‘best guesses’ based on size, spine color, and other factors, there’s no doubting the plants’ membership in the the genus Opuntia, or the beauty of their flowers.

Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa) ~ Sabinal river crossing, Bandera County


Comments always are welcome.


Two Gray Hairstreaks sipping nectar from antelope horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula)
(click image for greater clarity and detail)


One of the most common butterflies on the North American continent, the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) also ranges into Central and northern South America.

In their book Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, John and Gloria Tveten describe hairstreaks as “fast-flying butterflies that dart about so quickly and erratically that they are extremely difficult to follow.”  I’ve certainly been frustrated by that behavior, but this pair, intent on sips of nectar, were more than willing to tolerate my presence.

Found on a milkweed-covered  hillside along the west prong of the Medina River, very near The Nature Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve, these hairstreaks were accompanied by Buckeye, Sulphur, and American Painted Lady butterflies: all enjoying the abundance of late spring flowers, and perfect flying conditions.


Comments always are welcome.