Native to the deserts and mountains of the Southwest and Mexico, these yucca relatives tolerate dry, rocky, alkaline soil and considerable drought, though some irrigation will speed growth. They resemble Nolinabut unlike those plants, most sotols have sharp prickles along their leaf margins.
Given plenty of room to spread out, sotols make a bold statement in the garden. Their long, narrow leavesranging in color from dark green to blue-green to silverycan be upright or drooping. The foliage rosette sits atop a woody base that can, with age, form a treelike trunk. Mature plants may bloom in summer, bearing tiny flowers in tight clusters on a tall, narrow spike. There are male and female plants; you need one of each to obtain seed.
D. berlandieri. BLUE SOTOL. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Native to Mexico. Grows 46 ft. tall and wide, with slightly arching blue-green leaves to 4 ft. long and 7 in. wide. Male flowers are rust colored; female blossoms are chartreuse. Leaves of 'Delores' curl at the ends. 'Monterrey' features swordlike silvery foliage; 'Zaragoza' sports twisted, strikingly blue leaves.
D. leiophyllum. SMOOTH SOTOL. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native to West Texas, New Mexico, and northeastern Mexico. Grows 45 ft. tall and wide. Smooth, shiny, green to blue-green leaves are just 1 in. wide but over 3 ft. long; margins are lined with stout teeth. Whitish flowers are borne on a spike to 12 ft. or taller. One of the most cold-hardy and drought-tolerant sotols.
D. miquihuanensis. TREE SOTOL. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Large, fast-growing native of the mountains of northeastern Mexico. Over time, grows 8 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, with a massive trunk and green leaves that reach 4 ft. long and 2 in. wide. Flowers similar to those of D. texanum.
D. quadrangulatum (D. longissimum). MEXICAN GRASS TREE. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native to mountains of northeastern Mexico. Forms a fountainlike clump to about 5 ft. high and wide. Dark green, 3-ft.-long leaves are very narrowless than in. wideand unlike leaves of other species, they have smooth margins. Trunk grows slowly, extending the plant's height to at least 15 ft. over time. White to cream-colored flowers appear on a 6-ft. spike.
D. texanum. TEXAS SOTOL. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native to Texas Hill Country. Stiff, spiny, sharp-edged green leaves, to 23 ft. long and 1 in. wide, reflect light prettily as they move in the breeze. Plant grows 3 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide; small whitish flowers appear on a spike that may reach 15 ft. high. More tolerant of cold, moisture, and shade than most other sotols.
D. wheeleri. DESERT SPOON, DESERT SOTOL. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. Native to West Texas, Arizona, and northern Mexico. Forms a near-spherical clump 35 ft. high, 45 ft. wide. Spiky, fairly stiff, bluish gray leaves to 3 ft. long and less than 1 in. wide. Slowly forms a trunk covered with dried, drooping shag of old leaves (if these are not trimmed off as they fade). Base of each leaf broadens where it joins the trunk to form a long-handled spoon prized in dried arrangements. Produces white flowers on a 9- to 15-ft.-tall spike; plants occasionally die after flowering.
Fast-draining soil is essential. If your soil is heavy, amend it with lots of sand and coarse gravel, or plant in large containers. Spring is the best time for planting. Mulch with gravel rather than organic matter, and keep plants as dry as possible during winter. Promptly remove old, withered leaves at the base for a neater appearance. Pests aren't usually a problem.