I, on the other hand, love the Greasewood, alternately called Creosote or Chaparral. I’ve never met anyone who grew up in the desert southwest who didn’t appreciate the pungent, astringent odor of Greasewood and damp soil after a desert rain. Perhaps it is because rain is so rare that anything associated with it is memorable, or else it’s that clean, crisp perfume of creosote that permeates the air. As a Midwest native, my husband associates creosote with telephone poles, not rain. When he thinks of rain, he recalls the smell of fresh green grass. In the many years he’s lived here, he’s still unimpressed with the smell of the desert after a rain.
The Greasewood’s small resinous leaves feel sticky and it is the resin that perfumes the air during periods of high humidity or after a rain. In the desert, the Greasewood will only get three or four feet tall and wide. When planted in a garden where water is available, it can reach up to 12 feet in height. My Greasewood shrubs, planted two years ago, are now reaching five feet high and wide.
Greasewood competes for water with other desert plants. Its extensive roots system puts out chemicals that repel the growth of surrounding vegetation, allowing the Greasewood to take advantage of the limited moisture without competition from other plants. Cacti can grow near the Greasewood, and the shrub will act as a nurse plant to the small cacti.
Soon, our rainy season will begin here in the Arizona desert. Even as temperatures reach 118˚ and the small increase in humidity can make this season almost unbearable, I do look forward to the coming rains, just for a whiff of that wonderful fragrance.