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Ode to Creosote

Creosote might be the coolest plant ever. It is an unassuming, scraggly bush that arguably looks more dead than alive. However, it grows prolifically over some of the hottest deserts on Earth. This hardy little plant can live as a single organism for over a thousand years. It sinks roots so deeply into the soil that mining operations have found them over a thousand feet below the surface. When the plant finally dies, it tends to die from the bottom up. The branches then sag slowly to the ground where the still-living vegetation takes root and starts life again as multitudinous new little bushes. It is a living example of a Phoenix, but in bush form. Each one is a clone of the original. Thus, it is hard to actually tell how old the specific genome of a creosote bush is because it could be one of multiple, thousand-year generations of the same plant. It also means looking at a landscape, you do not know how many individuals are actually there. They could be the results of normal reproduction of the plant, or they could be a creeping army of clones. Creosote changes colors from bright green in new growth to a yellowish brown that can come out when drought is particularly harsh in the desert. They can grow in all sorts of terrain because of their deep roots’ abilities to seek out water, and they can be the dominant plant life in an ecosystem. There is so little else that grows under creosote, it is reasonable to assume that it is also a master of chemical warfare, the hidden clash of plants that we walk through all but unaware of. When it does rain, creosote is the primary contributor to the scent of rain in the desert, and its smell is nearly addictive. It is in a close running with chocolate chip cookies for the best scent in the entire world. This scent can even be invoked by cupping your hands around a sprig and breathing on it. The moisture from your breath gives you a little puff of heaven. After the summer monsoons come, creosote will be covered in little yellow blossoms, which in turn become white, puffy seeds that almost resemble those of a cottonwood. I once took several sprigs of creosote with me when I was studying and living abroad. Over the next eight months I was able to get a little scent of home to get me through the hardest times of homesickness. It was one of the secret pleasures I keep hidden away on a windowsill. It is now a house plant selected over any exotic, tropical plant.