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Jan/Feb 2012 cover image

Flora Fact: Prickly Provider

Hard-to-handle sotol is worth the effort of harvesting.

By Louie Bond

Though Maria Dolores Fernandez Huerta passed away last year, Texas Parks & Wildlife artist Clemente Guzman remembers the stories that his grandmother told him as a child, of hard but happy times growing up and raising children in Mexico. Times were simple, and so were the pleasures. One treat the family enjoyed was roasted sotol, a relative of yucca, which she described as deliciously sweet and sticky.

“My mother, Gloria, told me that they roasted it over the fire,” Guzman says. “You eat it like sugar cane: bite into it, suck the juice and spit the hard stuff.”

Guzman’s abuela carried on the tradition of native peoples throughout history who relied on Dasylirion texanum and other sotol species for food. Early natives ate the seeds, and a tequila-like liquor has been imbibed for generations. The plant could be slow-cooked as well, pounded into patties and sun-dried or baked for later use. Sotol also provided food for cattle during droughts.

The hardy plant was useful as more than a food source. Sotol fibers were used for weaving, and the towering stalks could be used as lightweight construction materials.

Neither cactus nor agave, sotol forms dense stands on rocky slopes and is difficult to harvest. Prehistoric people used sharp stone tools to trim off the long, slender, sharp-toothed leaves that protect the desirable heart.

The plant is connected to the ground at the stem base by a cluster of long, thin fibrous roots. A towering stalk shoots up 10 to 15 feet above the spiny mound of leaves, with flowers attracting bees and other insects each spring and summer.

While D. texanum is found in the Hill Country, another species, D. leiophyllum, grows in the Trans-Pecos. A third type, D. wheeleri, is found in far West Texas.

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