List of Desert Plants

There are far more desert plants than just cacti to plant in desert gardens.
There are far more desert plants than just cacti to plant in desert gardens. (Image: cactus image by KALISTE A from <a href=''></a>)

The desert is a harsh environment with cold nights and harsh heat in the day. There is little rain and the soil contains very little nutrients. Desert plants must be hardy and drought-tolerant to survive, usually with some sort of water storage system. Plants in the desert can be quite attractive, however, and many enthusiasts recreate desert gardens in their own habitat. Desert gardening goes well in areas where there is much xeriscaping.

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Desert Pincushion

The desert pincushion (Chaenactis stevioides) also is called false yarrow. It grows 12 inches in height, and has hairy stems and fuzzy leaves that are divided. The disk-like flowers look like a pincushion and are white or pinkish white. The flowers appear from March through August depending on their location. Although they are a member of the sunflower family of plants, they do not have the typical ray-flower. Desert pincushions are common annuals in the North American desert.

Palo Verde

The palo verde (Cercidium microphyllum) grows 10 to 20 feet tall, and has a green bark trunk and deep roots for tapping into underground water systems. The branches of the palo verde are deciduous like the leaves, and can be shed during times of drought. Late spring yellow flowers are solitary and only flower during years of good rainfall.

Desert Ironwood

The desert ironwood (Olneya tesota) also is called Palo-de-Hierro. It grows 15 to 25 feet tall (rarely up to 30 feet), and has blue-gray-green leaves and sweetpea-like flowers. They are long-living, with some specimens being approximately 1,500 years old. There is gray smooth bark on young trees and wrinkled bark on older trees. The flowers bloom April to June and are white, pink or rose in color. Leaves are hairy and their litter makes good mulch for the tree.

Spanish Needles

Spanish needles (Palafoxia arida) grows 1 to 2 feet in height with hairy leaves and pink flowers. Blooms will be present from May through September and will be sparse. The flower heads are 1 to 3 inches wide with leaves 1 to 3 inches long.


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