Dominant Plants in the Desert


The desert can be a brutal environment for plants, animals and humans. Plants have made fascinating adaptations to the arid desert climate in order to continue thriving in its extreme conditions.

Well-Known Desert Plants

  • The plants most commonly associated with the desert are cacti. A variety of cacti live in deserts, including the saguaro, cholla, barrel and prickly pear. Succulents are another well-known desert plant. As noted by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, all cacti are technically succulents, but the category also extends to other plant varieties such as members of the agave species.

Lesser-Known Desert Plants

  • Some desert plants are not as well known as cacti and succulents, but are nevertheless very common in desert environments. Many play a crucial role in the desert ecosystems. Trees such as the juniper, mesquite and palo verde provide shade for desert animals. The leaves of the creosote bush, a native desert plant, have antiseptic qualities and were used by Native American tribes in the Southwest United States.


  • Plants have developed a variety of fascinating adaptations in order to adjust to desert extremes. Some, such as the big sagebush, have developed extensive root systems that extend deep into the earth and maximize water intake. Others store energy in roots and leaves in order to survive throughout the year. Succulents such as cacti often have spiky leaves to protect them from predators, who are attracted to their high moisture content.

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