Look again to see the wonders growing in the desert


EL PASO – Is that scrappy plant on the side of the road a weed or a wonder? Desert landscapers say there’s often more to the Borderland’s flora than meets the eye.

The term weed is usually meant for a plant that is considered a nuisance, growing where it isn’t always wanted, says John White, curator of the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at UT El Paso. But where some people see weeds, others see wildflowers, healing herbs and critical sustenance for desert wildlife and other helpful uses.

“Some of the weeds are actually good, some of the weeds can be edible, and some of them can be used for different purposes,” White says. “Actually one weed that’s used that’s chopped up mixed with fine sand and helps to make pavement.”

Related story: El Pasoans can get native plants, gardening tips at the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens Florafest

Even a species of the classic desert tumbleweed – when its really young and small – can be edible. White says he likes to use it in salads.

Estela Flores, nursery manager at High Desert Native Plants, says ornamental grasses like Sacaton, that pop up everywhere are a welcome sight to some desert dwellers. 

People considers this big time weed because it is very invasive. But this is so essential to our deer and our wildlife that are up in the mountains.”

White advises people living in our region to learn more about the plants that surround them because their appearance may not always reflect their benefits.

This story was produced during the summer 2016 UTEP Broadcast Journalism Workshop  for the TV-style news magazineBorderzine Presents: Hidden El Paso. The program explored an eclectic mix of El Paso’s hidden hazards and unexpected gems.

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