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What are Some Examples of Desert Plants?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Desert plants are uniquely adapted to life in a harsh and sometimes extreme environment. They often look unusual, and are sometimes quite beautiful. While desert plants are often greatly enjoyed in nature, they are also experiencing a growing popularity among landscapers. The same traits which allow desert plants to endure in the desert also make them suitable for low water gardening and xeriscaping. In hot, dry climates, desert plants can be used to assemble a striking and very water efficient garden. In cooler regions, desert plants sometimes do well in greenhouse conditions.

Several traits set desert plants aside from others. The first is that they tend to be designed to store water, and to use water efficiently. Cacti and succulents, for example, both have dense flesh which is designed to store large amounts of water. Many plants also have long roots to reach deep into the water table for water. Other plants deal with hostile conditions by dying off during extreme weather, and reviving during the rainy season to briefly bloom and scatter seeds. During this small window of time, many visitors come to see the profusion of desert wildflowers.

Many people associate cacti and succulents with the desert, but there are also a range of other plants. Desert wildflowers such as cliffrose, primrose, chuparose, brittlebush, sagebrush, sand verbena, yellow beeplant, and woolly daisies are common. There are also desert versions of familiar flowers like marigolds, lupines, poppies, sunflowers, chicory, mallow, dandelion,a and lily. During their blooming season, these wildflowers light up the desert with color.

Deserts also host an assortment of trees and shrubs such as creosote bush, crucifixion bush, desert willow, elephant trees, mesquite, ponderosa pines, Joshua trees, and acacias. Many of these trees have minimal foliage, since water loss through leaves is undesirable for them. They may also be bedecked in thorns to discourage hungry animals, and they often have thick, fleshy trunks and branches.

Numerous plants come together in the desert to survive in the harsh conditions. Often, plants will live in close proximity to each other to take advantage of shade, water storage, and soil retention. This is especially common around trees, cacti, and large shrubs, since these desert plants anchor soil, water, and nutrients. When smaller plants die back during very hot, dry weather, their larger guardians protect their dormant roots so that they can rise again to bloom and spread seed in more favorable seasons.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By sputnik — On Mar 29, 2008

In some years, when there is sufficient rainfall and the timing of the rain is right, golden poppies blanket gentle hills of Antelope Valley with a splash of color that is breathtaking.

Other flowers share the hills with poppies, such as lupine, owls clover, and cream cups, among others, but poppies do predominate. It is amazing that in that harsh landscape, with little water, strong sun, and powerful wind the delicate flowers grow in spite of all the harshness.

Antelope Valley is the beginning of the immense Mojave Desert in California.

By anon9070 — On Feb 27, 2008

which desert are these plants found in?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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