As you drive along Highway 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, you will see plenty of feathery-looking tamarisk trees lining the road. They even grow deeper in the park itself and along its edges, and can reach anywhere between 5 to 25 feet in height.
The tamarisk was introduced into New Mexico and other areas during the 1800s. It was used as an ornamental tree and to help prevent soil erosion. Unfortunately, in desert areas where water is at a premium, the tamarisk poses several threat to native plant species.
Usually, tamarisk is found in riparian areas, along streams and rivers throughout New Mexico. It requires a lot of water to grow, with each tree using about 200 gallons of water a day. Here in White Sands National Monument, our high water table provides the perfect environment for the tamarisk, as the trees are able to find plenty of water. The problem this poses is that it siphons water so quickly that it out-competes other forms of native vegetation, such as the Rio Grand Cottonwood.
The tamarisk is well-suited to areas where the water has a high salinity, which is why it is also known as the Saltcedar. Unlike other trees, the tamarisk will store the excess salt in its tissues and then excrete it into the soil, making the ground unsuitable for many other native species.
The tamarisk's trunk (it can have multiple trunks) is covered in rough bark and produces a feathery, green, gray-green or blue-green foliage which are small and scale-like, often overlapping. In the summer, it grows long, white or dark pink bunches of small flowers. Physical removal of tamarisk trees is only possible if the root crown is removed. If it is not, the root crown will send out shoots that will produce many more trees.
Did You Know?
The gypsum that makes up the white sands starts out as clear, translucent sand grains. As the wind bounces the sand grains along the ground, they collide and scratch each other. The scratches change the way light reflects off the grains, making the sand appear white.