Semi-Arid Desert Plants


Semi-arid deserts have slightly more rainfall than dry deserts. According to the University of California Museum Of Paleontology, semi-arid deserts have approximately 1 to 1.5 inches of rainfall a year, while dry deserts receive less than about a half inch of rainfall. In the United States, semi-arid deserts are found in the sagebrush areas of Utah and Montana as well as portions of the Great Basin Desert.


  • The jujube (Ziziphus jujube) is a thorny tree that grows to 40 feet tall. Originally from China, the jujube thrives in the hot conditions of semi-arid deserts in the southwestern United States. The ornamental jujube grows spiny branches in a zigzag pattern. This deciduous tree goes dormant in the winter and can survive sub-freezing temperatures. The jujube develops slightly fragrant flowers from late spring until summer. Jujube fruit is highly edible and can be used for cooking, jellies and syrups.


  • The brittlebush (Encelia farinose) is a member of the sunflower family that grows in semi-arid deserts, as well as throughout the hot Sonoran and Mojave deserts. This small shrub grows into a 5-foot tall mound with brittle branches and hairy leaves. The deciduous brittlebush blooms from March to June with bright yellow flowers, providing color throughout its semi-arid desert regions. In the past, Native Americans used the resin from the brittlebush as glue. The Seri Indians of Mexico spread ground brittlebush over their bodies as a pain reliever.

Triangle-Leaf Bursage

  • The triangle-leaf bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is found in semi-arid deserts as well as the Sonoran desert. This small shrub grows to a rounded mound 1.5 feet tall, with its brittle branches developing into a crown with a mixture of healthy, old and dead growth. The leaves are shaped like a triangle and are gray-green on the topside and white on the bottom. The leaves and branches are hairy when young, becoming smoother as they mature.

    The triangle-leaf bursage develops small flowers from February through July, followed by the development of seeds with a burr-like surface. These seeds readily stick to animal fur, allowing the seeds to be transported throughout the desert. This plant has a distinct root zone, as other plants will not grow near the triangle-leaf bursage's root system.

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