A desert is a fascinating place. It can be harsh and unforgiving, but it also has many beautiful plants that are called desert plants. If you live in an area where desert plants are prevalent, then you know how important they are to the natural landscape. Some of these desert plants have medicinal properties while others have small berries that attract animals for food or protection from sun rays.
Desert plants are one of the most beautiful and unexpected parts of desert life. They can be found in shades of blue, pink, yellow, and purple all across the desert landscape.
There is something about desert plants that makes them seem like they are out of this world. It could be the way their leaves droop and hang from branches, or maybe it’s how they grow in such harsh conditions.
Either way, desert plants hold a certain mystique about them that we can’t help but love!
In this blog post, we will discuss 45 different desert plants and why you need to reconnect with nature by planting one or more of them in your garden today!
- 1 45 types of Desert plants
- 1.1 Pancake Prickly Pear Cactus
- 1.2 Golden Barrel Cactus
- 1.3 Saguaro Cactus
- 1.4 Lace or Hedgehog Cactus
- 1.5 Organ Pipe Cactus
- 1.6 Mojave Yucca
- 1.7 Brittlebush
- 1.8 Creosote Bush
- 1.9 Desert Ironwood Plant
- 1.10 Desert Sage Plant
- 1.11 Desert Zinnia
- 1.12 Desert Marigold
- 1.13 Desert Bluebells
- 1.14 Desert Willow Tree
- 1.15 Desert Lily
- 1.16 Turpentine Broom
- 1.17 Mojave-aster
- 1.18 Jumping Cholla Cactus
- 1.19 Joshua Tree
- 1.20 Elephant Tree
- 1.21 Ocotillo
- 1.22 Yellow Paloverde
- 1.23 Soaptree Yucca
- 1.24 Triangle-leaf Bursage
- 1.25 Desert Palm
- 1.26 Tumbleweed
- 1.27 Mesquite Tree
- 1.28 Poison Ivy
- 1.29 Date Palm
- 1.30 Lovegrass
- 1.31 Fox Tail Agave
- 1.32 Bunny Ear Cactus
- 1.33 Desert lavender
- 1.34 The desert willow
- 1.35 The Four-Wing Saltbush
- 1.36 Zebra Cactus
- 1.37 Queen Victoria Agave
- 1.38 Living Stone
- 1.39 Paddle Plant
- 1.40 Burro’s Tail
- 1.41 Pencil Plant (Euphorbia tirucalli)
- 1.42 Ghost Plant
- 1.43 Desert Spoon
- 1.44 Emu Bush
- 1.45 Thyme
- 1.46 Oleander
45 types of Desert plants
Pancake Prickly Pear Cactus
Pancake Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia basilaris) is one of the popular desert plants that have a skirt of flattened, green, or reddish pads that cling to rocky cliffs. It grows in the border areas between deserts and woodlands, usually on slopes below 4000 feet above sea level.
Pancake Prickly Pear cactus has been used for food, soap, and fiber. The pads are also a source of water in the desert.
When it is ripe, its fruit tastes like sweet green or red apple juice with a hint of vanilla. It should be eaten either raw or cooked into pies and preserves to avoid digestive upset.
Its pads can be used as a soap substitute and the fruit makes an excellent jelly. The flowers are also edible, tasting like fresh cucumbers when in bloom. When it is not flowering, its nectar provides food for butterflies and hummingbirds.
Golden Barrel Cactus
The golden barrel cactus, also known as the Echinocactus grusonii, is one of the most distinctive plants in the North American desert, but it can also be found on other continents. The plant gets its name from its stout body that looks like a barrel made out of gold or yellow skin. This makes them easy to spot even if they are far away and camouflaged against their environment.
Saguaro cactus are native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Mexico. The word Saguaro comes from the Tohono O’odham Native American language which means “carved” or “something that is made by hand.” This is because the cactus has a barrel-like shape that looks like it was carved.
Saguaros are large, tree-sized desert plants that can grow up to 50 feet tall and weigh up to four tons. They have long arms extending from their trunk which can be six inches in diameter at the base of the plant where they start to branch out. Each of the arms can grow upwards of twenty feet long and hang up to 20 pounds each.
Saguaro cactus is one of the biggest types of cacti in North America, but they also have some other unique qualities that make them stand apart from their desert plant cousins.
Lace or Hedgehog Cactus
The Lace or Hedgehog cactus is so named for its spiny branches that look like the points of a lace doily. It can grow up to ten feet tall and thrives in both sandy soils and rocky crevices. This plant blooms once every few years, but it has beautiful white flowers that cover all of its spines.
Organ Pipe Cactus
The Organ Pipe Cactus is easily recognized by its unique shape and beautiful white flowers. It grows quickly in the desert heat, but it can take decades to grow into a large specimen.
The Mojave yucca is a plant that can survive in the harshest desert conditions. It has sharp, stiff leaves and spiky flowers, but it does provide some small animals with food and shelter.
Brittlebush is a common name for several plants in the Mojave Desert which are characterized by grayish-green foliage.
The plants are named for their tendency to break easily, with the stem fracturing in dry weather. This is a special adaptation of these plants which protects them from drying out during periods when water is unavailable.
The “Brittlebush” is part of the family Ebenaceae. It was first described by George Bentham in 1836 as “Euclea crispa”, but it became part of a long-standing confusion over its relationships with other species; through history, different botanists considered it to belong to either the genus “Euclea” or the closely related genus “Tetradymia”.
These common desert plants are more of a bush than a tree. They have small leaves, which are hard to see on the green stems. However, it does have tiny yellow flowers that bloom in early spring and summer months.
The creosote bush is a stout, dense plant that can grow anywhere from two to ten feet high. It has long been used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes due to its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. These plants also have been known to improve the yield of wheat crops in nearby areas if planted around them.
Desert Ironwood Plant
The desert ironwood plant is closely related to the mesquite with which it shares its range, but they are different enough for beginner botanists to tell them apart. The desert ironwood has leaflets that grow opposite one another along a central stalk while the leaves of the mesquite alternate up and down the stem.
Their flowers also differ between the two plants. The desert ironwood has small, yellow flowers while the mesquite flower will be either cream or pink depending on its variety.
The desert ironwood is a beautiful plant that grows at an impressive height of up to 30 feet with trunks as wide as 18 inches if not more in some cases! It was once one of the most common plants of the Sonoran Desert, but overgrazing and development have caused it to become endangered in some areas.
Desert Sage Plant
Desert sage plants are one of the most recognizable in deserts. They smell great and provide a lot of color to an otherwise gray desert landscape. Their leaves can be used like you would use oregano, but because many people find them unpalatable when raw, they may not make for good food in some cases unless cooked first.
The leaves can be used in salad dressings, soups, and stews. They are said to have a slight resemblance to broccoli leaves which may help with convincing your children that it’s something they might enjoy eating if you’re looking for ways of getting them to try new vegetables.
Desert-adapted plants often use photosynthesis more efficiently than their watered-down counterparts because they have adapted to conserve water. This means desert plants tend to grow more slowly than watered-down versions of themselves which is why it can be hard to find them in nurseries and garden centers if you’re looking for a quick fix solution to your landscaping needs.
The zinnia plant is a very common desert plant that many people use to cut flowers. Because they have adapted to the arid conditions of deserts, zinnias are often able to bloom more quickly and produce a larger quantity of blooms than their watered-down counterparts.
Native Americans also used them as medicinal remedies for stomach aches and fevers so if you have a history of stomach problems in your family it might be worth looking into planting some zinnias to help prevent further issues.
Desert Marigold is a plant that thrives in the harsh conditions of deserts. While they are not as common as other desert plants, they make up for them by being incredibly resilient and useful to humans. Desert Marigolds have been known to survive droughts, lasting longer than 24 hours with little water or nutrients! Their long taproot allows them to absorb deep into the ground and reach moisture that other plants cannot.
Marigolds are often one of the first plants people think about when they begin thinking about gardening, but most marigolds that you will find at garden centers are watered-down versions of desert marigolds which can be difficult to find.
Desert Marigold thrives in dry, gritty soil and is known for its drought tolerance as well as the beautiful orange color of its blooms. You will need to water your plant less than you would a watered-down version of itself because it has adapted over time by developing ways of conserving water such as by growing leaves that point down towards the ground.
Desert marigold flowers are also known for their use in cooking as a substitute for saffron, which is produced from crocus plants. The taste of these desert marigolds has been described as “slightly bitter” and possessing an earthy taste.
Desert Marigolds are also known for their use in cooking as a substitute for saffron, which is produced from crocus plants. The taste of these desert marigolds has been described as “slightly bitter” and possessing an earthy taste. Desert Marigold flowers are also very attractive to bees!
Bluebells are another popular desert flower that also has medicinal properties if you’re looking for a way to combine your love of flowers with your enjoyment in natural medicine and holistic healing. The blue color can be used to help treat eye infections and vision issues as well as other symptoms related to eyesight.
Desert Bluebells also flower best in dry, arid conditions which makes them a great choice for those looking for desert plants that will help usher in the spring season without requiring large amounts of water or maintenance on your part. They like it hot!
Desert Willow Tree
As one of the popular desert plants, these trees were so important to Native Americans that they often used their branches for shade and ritual. They are known as the “tree of life” because it’s a place where people could relax, get better water, and even stay cool in hot weather.
The desert willow tree can handle extreme heat or cold conditions. They have been known to survive in dry, hot climates with very little water. Their roots will grow deep into the ground so they can get whatever amount of moisture is available. If you want a beautiful tree for your yard or property that won’t take up much space and is easy to maintain, then this may be perfect for you!
The desert lily is a perennial flower that blooms in the spring and summer months. The long, green leaves will grow to be about one foot tall and produce large red or yellow flowers with brown spots on them. A single plant can have up to twenty-five of these beautiful daisy like flowers that bloom for three days at most.
The turpentine broom is a small shrub that produces striking red flowers. It blooms from late winter to early spring and can be found as far north as Southern California. Visiting the desert during this time of year might provide you with beautiful views of these bright-red blossoms dotting the landscape.
The Mojave-aster is native to the Southwestern United States. It has beautiful purple flowers that are perfect for attracting butterflies when in bloom from spring through summer.
Jumping Cholla Cactus
For the adventurer looking to commune with nature, it is hard to top a trip through the desert. Although harsh and unforgiving, deserts are home to incredible plant life that has adapted in amazing ways for survival under intense conditions. One group of plants found here includes cacti, which come in many forms but share an ability to survive in what seems like complete isolation.
First up on the list of desert plants that reconnect you to nature is none other than the infamous “jumping cholla cactus.” This plant gets its name from a particularly unique adaptation: no matter how carefully one tries to avoid them, it always seems as though some arms manage to attach themselves firmly and painfully to the nearest passerby.
The other amazing thing about this plant is that it seems like every single one has hooked arms, meaning there are no “safe zones.” These plants grow low to the ground and can be difficult to avoid when walking through desert scrubland where they flourish.
The iconic Joshua Tree, scientifically known as Yucca brevifolia is a treelike yucca that grows across the Mojave Desert. The trees were given their name by early Mormon settlers who likened them to biblical imagery of Joshua pointing his followers towards salvation in the Promised Land. These unique desert plants are endemic to California and can be found at elevations of up to.
The Joshua Tree is a slow-growing plant that can live an astonishing 150 years. The trees have been part of Native American culture for thousands of years, being used as shelter and food by the Cahuilla tribes who lived in their shadow. In modern times they are key components in local environmental efforts, with the growth of new trees being encouraged in order to slow desertification.
The Joshua Tree is perhaps one of the most diverse species that can be found throughout the Mojave Desert, having adapted to a wide range of habitats and elevations. They are nocturnal plants that open their leaves at night when temperatures drop in order to capture the warmth from the sun. The trees are also home to a wide array of organisms, with between 100 – 200 different types of insects living on every tree!
The Joshua Tree is one of California’s most iconic desert plants and can be found across its deserts in both small clumps or large forests.
Desert elephants are a relative of the African elephant. These trees have large, light green leaves that grow up to six feet long. The trunk can reach five feet in diameter and has small spines on it for protection from animals after they drop off from time to time. The elephants get their name from the appearance of this tree.
Elephant trees are often found in areas with clay soil and rocky outcrops. They naturally grow to be taller than other desert plants, so they can typically reach up to 60 feet tall when fully grown.
These plants have large flowers that contain nectar for hummingbirds to enjoy. They tend to bloom in the spring and can be found along washes, sandy areas with clay soil, or rocky outcrops all over southern Arizona desert plants.
Desert plants are hard to come by, but the ocotillo is one of them. The ocotillo is a plant that looks like it’s on steroids because of the mass amount of branches coming from one main stem. The ocotillo can grow up to six feet in height and has small red flowers at its tops.
It blooms once every year, between April and June, which makes sense since it lives for around thirty years. The ocotillo is one of the only plants that can live in an area with little to no water and it takes great care for this reason. The ocotillo is a desert plant.
The best time to see the ocotillos in full bloom is between April and June, after which they produce their red flowers that attract pollinating insects. It can live for up to thirty years with little water, making it one of the most reliable plants when it comes to surviving in arid conditions.
The desert is a land of extremes and often harsh conditions. Yet, it holds beauty in its barren landscapes and the resilience of life that flourishes within this unforgiving environment. The plants we find here are hardy survivors with adaptations drawn from extensive experience enduring these elements; they create their own ecosystems to survive through drought, heat, and cold while providing shelter and nutrients to other desert denizens.
Soaptree Yucca is a desert plant that looks like a tall, spiky green candle with small flowers. The leaves can be used to make soap and the flower stalks were eaten by Native American peoples as well as early settlers. It blooms from late spring through summer in bright pink or white flowers.
This plant is an incredibly adaptable species that can withstand a wide range of conditions, from hot and dry to cool and moist. It thrives in full sun as well as shade. The foliage emits a fragrant scent when crushed or brushed against, which makes it useful for repelling insects.
A desert palm can grow to over 30 feet tall and live up to 200 years. Its dramatic fronds (leaves) are beautiful in photographs, but don’t try hugging one of these guys! A sharp spine protects the plant from any hungry predators that come along.
Desert palms get their water through a process called “transpiration.” This means water is pulled through their roots and into the leaves, where it evaporates in a process that cools the plant down.
Desert tumbleweeds may be one of the biggest problems for people living in desert climates, but they do have their benefits. They’re actually succulent and not a plant at all – it’s an assemblage of dead flower parts that protect seeds until conditions are right to germinate (the same as other plants). But perhaps the biggest benefit is that they help prevent soil erosion and create shelter for animals.
The mesquite is a tough, drought-tolerant tree that grows in the desert. It can live up to 400 years! This hardy plant also has beautiful blossoms and tasty pods. Mesquites are nitrogen fixers so they help improve soil quality for other plants.
Mesquite trees are fascinating, beautiful desert plants that connect us back to nature. The mesquite tree is the only plant that has a symbiotic relationship with ants and provides food for many different animals.
This tough community player also stores water in its roots so it can survive long periods of drought. Mesquites have made many animals like the desert tortoise, kangaroo rat, pack rats, and cattle egrets adapted to living in these harsh dry climates.
The mesquite tree is an amazing plant that not only provides food for many different animals but also gives us shade and can live up to 400 years!
Poison Ivy is a flowering plant that can be found all over the world. It usually grows in wooded areas and it has three leaves, making it easy to identify. The oil from this plant causes an allergic reaction in most people when they touch or eat the poisonous berries of this tree. This allergy makes you break out with blisters on your skin.
Poison Ivy can be found in the deserts of North America, South American, Africa, and Australia. It is most commonly seen in Florida but it also grows throughout California year-round. This plant thrives when there are abundant rains so if you find this poisonous plant amidst a desert landscape then that means there was recent rain activity.
Date palms are one of the most majestic plants in desert ecosystems. They have a crown that rises up to 20 feet, which is partially composed by leaves and branches. The trunk can grow up to 11/12 ft wide and 23 ft high, while some specimens might reach 55 ft. This plant does not produce any flowers or fruit during its first 25 years of life.
Date palms are often found in oases, where they provide shade to the people who gather water there. They also help preserve groundwater levels by preventing evaporation through transpiration and slowing down runoff rates during heavy rains. Date palm fruits are highly nutritious, containing high amounts of vitamins A, B-complex (especially niacin), and C, as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium chlorine.
The fruits can be dried in the sun to produce a sweet known as “tamr” or even turned into date syrup.
Lovegrass thrives best on rocky slopes, sandy washes, and flats beneath cliffs. It requires at least two years to mature into tall flower stalks which are then cut for hay or seed production. The seeds can be ground into meal or flour used by Native Americans for bread and mush.
Fox Tail Agave
This unique desert plant stands out with its vivid yellow flowers that appear in early spring to late summer and range from under three feet to four feet tall. Fox tail agave is also popular because of its long lifespan.
Bunny Ear Cactus
This cactus doesn’t even look real. The spiny ball is actually made up of hundreds of small flowers that bloom into bunnies! They are found in the deserts and dry forests in Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
This purple shrub has a sweet smell that you would expect to find in your grandma’s garden. They are known for their beautiful blue flowers, but they also have yellow and pink varieties! Desert Lava is found throughout the southwest desert regions of Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.
The desert willow
This tree has a special adaptation that helps it survive the harsh desert climate. It can withstand temperatures as high as 110 degrees and lows of -40! They grow to be up to 30 feet tall and have long thin leaves with bright pink flowers, which bloom in early spring or late fall depending on rainfall. Desert Willows are found in the Southwestern United States.
The Four-Wing Saltbush
This shrub grows in salty desert climates and has adapted to a unique growth pattern that helps it conserve water! They grow to be about 12 feet tall and have blue-green foliage, yellow flowers, and small edible red fruits.
In the Sonoran Desert, you’ll find a fascinating cactus called zebra cactus. This plant has spines that are so tightly packed together they look like zebras stripes all over their body. If you attempt to touch this plant or if it brushes up against your arm, other cacti will release an irritating sap. This sap will make you itch and burn, which can get really uncomfortable!
Zebra cactus is also called claret cup cactus for its beautiful red flowers that bloom during the summer months. When they are in full bloom, these plants look like little cups of liquid blood on the top of their spiky stems.
Queen Victoria Agave
The Queen Victoria Agave is an iconic plant in the Sonoran Desert. With its tall, spiky “arms” and broad base, it often resembles some sort of space alien or perhaps even a giant insect that’s about to stomp you into oblivion. This agave produces massive mounds of flowers annually where each stalk can grow up to 20 feet tall. They are easy to spot in the spring when their bright yellow flowers cover them in a blanket of color.
Living stones are a type of succulent plant that has evolved to survive in dry, nutrient-poor soils. They conserve water by storing it inside their leaves and stems. For this reason, living stone plants can go years without being watered. These drought-resistant plants do not need much water to grow–a little goes a long way!
Asclepias physocarpa, a paddle plant, is a perennial plant that grows in parts of Africa and Asia. It has been used traditionally to treat fever, malaria, and rheumatism, among other things.
Its flowers attract butterflies and birds such as the European bee-eater who consumes their nectar while they pollinate it at the same time.
The root and leaves of the plant can be turned into a tea for medicinal purposes, or boiled to make an ointment. It also makes a good mosquito repellant when crushed and blended with other ingredients such as coconut oil.
In the spring, Burro’s tail blooms with purplish-pink flowers. In late summer and fall, it offers a flush of green leaves as its primary attraction. But this plant is most interesting for how easy it is to propagate—simply break off some stems from an existing plant and stick them in soil.
Burro’s tail is native to the deserts of the American Southwest.
Pencil Plant (Euphorbia tirucalli)
The pencil Plant (also known as Euphorbia or Milk Bush), is a large, branching succulent that can grow up to 50 feet tall. It’s perfect for desert landscaping and has many ornamental uses: it makes an excellent container plant because of its unusual shape; it’s also considered valuable as an indoor houseplant because it’s easy to manage and care for.
A member of the carnivorous family, this plant is also known as a “ghost flower” for its white flowers. The ghost plant lives in sandy areas and has adapted to survive without rain by luring insects with their coloration. All parts are toxic except the leaves which do not contain much moisture but can be used for food when mixed with other plants.
The ghost plant is an example of how desert plants are able to adapt and provide food for animals in the area even if there is little rain or natural resources available at times.
Desert spoon is one of the most diverse desert plants. They are commonly found in deserts throughout Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Desert spoon has leaves that resemble spoons that curve up to protect against arid conditions. The flowers have a bright pink color with yellow centers making them stand out among other cacti species!
Emu bush is a tough plant, able to withstand the salinity and aridity of its environment. The leaves are either gray or light green depending on whether they’re exposed to sunlight or not. They like it in dry creek beds where water runs less often than elsewhere, but still enough for them after infrequent rains.
Thyme is a great ground cover that can help keep the soil moist and cool. It also helps prevent erosion, which gives it an even greater purpose! Its green leaves and purple flowers make it aesthetically pleasing, too!
The oleander is known for its beautiful flowers that are said to have inspired the ancient myth of Aphrodite, goddess of love. Oleander plants are toxic if consumed in large quantities but they do provide a nice habitat and food source for desert animals like hummingbirds and bees. The best way to enjoy the oleander is by admiring its beauty from afar.
The scented geranium smells wonderful and can be used in cooking but it’s also a great desert plant because of how well it tolerates dry conditions, pests, diseases, and neglect.