A trip to the Chihuahuan desert (yes, here it is a desert and not a dog) and Big Bend National Park in Deepest Texas has revealed two very interesting plants. First, and most festive (this being January 1) is the Sotol, pictured above. An integral part of the Basketmaker culture some 7000 years ago, it has long been distilled to make spirits akin to tequila. Sotol moonshine, only found on the Mexican side of the border, can either make you blind or blissed… Besides drinking sotol, the natives use its fibre to make sandals, baskets, ropes and mats, and can eat the heart of the plant, much like an artichoke. For natural design aficionados, at the centre of the plant’s heart, there is a spoon-shaped remnant that was once used as an eating utensil.
The sotol grows wild all over the area and also makes for a useful walking stick (and an excellent way to scare off bears and mountain lions, though luckily I did not have to put it to the test).
Another amazingly omnipresent and unusual plant is the ocotillo, which looks like a dry version of a coral or anemone.
The ocotillo grows up to 6 metres high, and its spiny stalks function as natural barbed wire. It can either be grown as a living barrier, or its stalks can be harvested and wired together like fenceposts.
Also called the candlewood (like so many streets and housing developments in suburban USA…) within 48 hours of rainfall, the dry spines sprout leaves and soon develop flaming scarlet flowers, that look as if they will take flight.