47 Desert Plants (With Pictures and Names) – Identification Guide

Desert Plants (With Pictures and Names) - Identification Guide

Desert plants thrive in hot, arid environments where they can survive with minimal rainfall. The desert biome is characterized by sandy or stony soil, high temperatures, and little moisture. Plants that grow well in desert environments need to store moisture in their fleshy leaves or have an extensive root system. Cacti are the most common desert plants; however, succulents, desert trees, grasses, and types of small shrubs and flowering bushes all grow well in deserts.

What are the Best Types of Desert Plants?

Common plants that survive desert climates are species of cacti such as the prickly pear, barrel cactus, or organ pipe cactus. Popular flowering desert plants and shrubs are the desert lily, California poppy, and aloe vera plants. For shade in a Southwest desert landscape, you can grow the desert willow or species of acacia trees.

In general, plants that grow best in the desert flora should be the following:

This article has a list of some of the most common plants that grow in the desert biome. Along with descriptions of these popular desert plants, pictures and their scientific names will help identify the best ones to grow in your yard.

Desert Plants with Their Picture and Name – Identification Guide

Let’s look in more detail at common desert plants. Here you will find varieties of flowering desert plants, heat-tolerant shrubs, trees, and various kinds of cacti.

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)

Opuntia

This picture shows opuntia cactus with fruits

An iconic desert cactus is the prickly pear with green, pad-like succulent leaves that are covered in spines. These are some of the most common desert plants found in the Southwestern United States. The thick, fleshy leaves store a lot of moisture, which helps the plant survive the desert ecosystem.

The prickly pear cactus also flowers in deserts when conditions are right. The yellow, purple, and red showy flowers help to give color in barren, arid landscapes. These large desert cacti can grow to between 16 and 23 ft. (5 – 7 m) and look similar to rabbit ears cactus.

The Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)

Yucca brevifolia

The Joshua tree is a type of yucca plant that lives in the Mojave Desert. This drought-tolerant tree-like desert plant also has names such as yucca palm and palm tree yucca. Native to Arizona, Utah, California, and Nevada, the large sun-loving plant can grow as high as 50 ft. (15 m). The slow-growing tree may take many years to reach that height.

The large desert Joshua tree gets its moisture from the arid landscape by a large root system. The short, stumpy branches have spiky green leaves. These leaves grow in clumps at the end of the thick branches, giving the Joshua tree a barren appearance.

Curve Leaf Yucca (Yucca gloriosa var. tristis)

Yucca gloriosa tristis

Yucca plants are commonly found in many deserts, and they withstand hot sun and little water. This yucca variety is commonly grown as an ornamental plant in the southern U.S. states. This desert plant has lower leaves that curve backward and upper leaves that are long and stiff, which taper to a sharp point.

Like most plants that thrive in desert climates, this yucca variety grows in sandy soil and coastal dunes. The thick trunk grows to about 4 or 5 ft. (1.2 – 1.5 m) high. Yucca desert plants also bloom with large clusters of white fragrant flowers.

Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Echinocactus grusonii

The golden barrel cactus is a plant that lives in the desert and looks like a large spherical spiked globe. The round green cactus has yellow or white sharp spines, and the plant produces a crown of small yellow flowers. These hardy desert plants are a great addition to rock gardens or desert landscapes in full sun and hot, arid conditions.

Golden barrel cacti are slow growing desert plants that can live for up to 30 years. The globular, low-growing plant may eventually reach 3 ft. (1 m) in height. These cacti are rare in deserts due to habitat destruction; however, they are excellent specimen plants growing in yards. You can plant them in sandy, well-draining soil in your yard or grow in pots.

Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

Carnegiea gigantea

As the scientific name of this desert plant suggests, this is a huge cactus. Pictures of desert terrain often show this tall cactus with its large arm-like branches curving upward. The thick columnar stem stores moisture that allows this plant to survive the driest of conditions. These common desert plants are found in the hot, barren landscapes of the southwest states and northern Mexico.

The saguaro cactus is the largest of any cactus to grow in the desert biome. These flowering plants also bloom in the desert between April and June. Large white trumpet-like flowers attract pollinators such as honeybees and hummingbirds. Although these cacti grow up to 52 ft. (16 m), they are slow-growing plants. So, if you want to create a desert landscape in your yard, a saguaro cactus is an excellent choice.

Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi)

Stenocereus thurberi

The organ pipe cactus lives up to its name because of the long tubular succulent stems that look like a pipe organ. These common desert plants grow up to 16 ft. (5 m) and the thick-ribbed stems are covered in sharp spines. Desert dwellers prized these plants due to their large tasty fruits. Some say that the delicious fruits from this plant taste better than watermelon.

These drought-tolerant plants grow well in gardens that get full sun and little shade. As with most succulent and cacti, plant them in well-draining, sandy soil. In their native habitat, the cacti are found in Arizona and Mexico in the Sonoran Desert.

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)

Encelia farinosa

Brittlebush is one of the most common desert shrubs in the southern states and Mexico. As its common name suggests, the brittlebush has stems that are stiff and easily break. This low-growing shrub helps brighten up desert landscape when it flowers. Yellow flowers bloom in the small clumps of dry foliage. During dry seasons, the bushy plant loses its leaves and relies on moisture stored in its stems to survive hot desert climates.

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata)

Larrea tridentata

This desert plant is also named greasewood, and it’s a flowering species of hardy plant native to arid deserts. The evergreen shrub produces dainty yellow flowers, and its large root system absorbs moisture from deep in the desert soil. This bushy desert plant gets its common name because it smells of creosote compounds distilled from coal tar.

Mature creosote bush plants can survive temperatures up to 160°F (70°C) and extreme drought.

Ghost Plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense)

Graptopetalum paraguayense

The ghost plant is a type of succulent that grows in various habitats, including the hot, dry conditions of a desert climate. Some of the other common names of this desert plant include mother-of-pearl plant and sedum weinbergii. This ground-covering plant is native to Mexico. The succulent leaves grow in a rosette form, and the plant is also called the porcelain succulent.

These desert plants also look gorgeous as a small houseplant, in a rock garden, or an open terrarium.

Red Pancake (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora)

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora

The common names for this small desert-dwelling plant mostly describe the leaves of this succulent—red pancake, paddle plant, desert cabbage, and flapjacks. The large, round, fleshy leaves are a blue-green color with hints of red blushing on the edges. The desert succulent produces yellow waxy flowers.

In a full-sun garden, these low-water desert plants don’t require much maintenance. The hot sun helps the leaves keep their color, and the fleshy leaves hold moisture.

Fox Tail Agave (Agave attenuata)

Agave attenuata

Fox tail agave thrives in hot arid climates of deserts in the southwest. Pictures of these desert plants would seem to suggest that they belong to the family Aloe. However, these large desert plants are from a different family.

The fox tail agave is one of the most popular agave plants for desert gardens. The clump of thick bluish-green leaves gives the large plant a spiky appearance. These succulent leaves are packed with moisture to help them endure dry desert terrain. Fox tail agave plants are popular ornamental garden plants in arid as well as subtropical climates.

Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima)

Stipa tenuissima

Mexican feather grass is an ornamental grass that thrives in full sun and can survive desert drought. Other common names for this hardy desert plant are Mexican feather grass, fine-leaved nassella, and fine-stem needlegrass. This desert grass has wispy, delicate blades that can help enhance the appearance of an attractive rock garden or desert landscape.

Tumbleweed

tumbleweed

Pictures of tumbleweed blowing across deserted desert roads is a classic image of movies of the Wild West. Tumbleweeds form from many different types of desert plants. The ball of light dry weed is the whole plant when it detaches from the root system. Its other common name is Russian thistle, indicating that it’s native to Russia as well as the western United States.

As the plant gets blown through the barren desert landscape, it disperses seeds that help this invasive plant to reproduce.

Desert Marigold (Baileya)

Baileya

Desert marigolds are flowering perennial plants found in the deserts of Mexico, Utah, California, and Arizona. The flowering desert plants add a splash of yellow color in an arid, barren desert. The large disc flowers bloom from spring and right through the hottest months of the year.

These sun-loving desert plants are an excellent choice of plant if you live in a desert climate. With little maintenance, you can get beautiful yellow flowers throughout hot summers.

Desert Lily (Hesperocallis)

Hesperocallis

It’s not just cacti and succulents that can survive hot desert weather. The desert lily is a common flowering desert plant in the Southwest and Mexico. The family name reveals this heat-tolerant plant is not a true lily but it’s more related to agave plants. However, the bluish-gray plant produces large white lily-like flowers—hence the common name desert lily.

The desert lily is a plant that only lives in the desert and can grow up to 6 ft. (1.8 m) tall.

Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida)

Cylindropuntia fulgida

The jumping cholla is a tree-like plant commonly found in the Sonora desert of Arizona and parts of California. This desert-loving plant is like a cross between a tree and a cactus. The plant has a thick trunk with branches that grow at the top. These branches are covered with barbs that can be painful if they catch on your skin.

The jumping cholla desert tree grows to about 13 ft. (4 m) high and produces pink and white flowers with lavender-colored markings.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)

Fouquieria splendens

Ocotillo is a common name for a type of desert cactus with long, tall green stems. Other names for this plant include vine cactus, desert coral, slim wood, and candlewood. The cacti are common plants found in states such as Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and California.

When it rains in the desert, this plant undergoes a transformation. The dry, barren stems become plump with moisture, lush leaves appear, and bright crimson flowers bloom.

Yellow Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)

Parkinsonia microphylla

The yellow palo verde is a large desert tree and is one of the most common trees native to the Sonoran Desert. This species of palo verde tree usually grows to around 16 ft. (5 m) tall and has yellowish-green foliage. The yellow palo verde is a deciduous tree that loses its leaves in hot, dry seasons.

The yellow palo verde tree can grow in the harsh desert conditions because its green bark carries out photosynthesis. As with many desert plants, flowers appear after rainfall.

Mojave Aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia)

(Xylorhiza tortifolia

One of the most stunning flowering desert plants is the Mojave aster—also called the Mojave woody aster. Native to the Mojave Desert, hence the common name, the plant produces large flowers similar to daisies. The petals look like lavender and white rays emitting from a yellow center.

The delightful Mojave aster flowers are also living in the Sonoran Desert and Great Basin Desert. It’s commonly found alongside other desert plants such as Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and saltbush scrubs.

Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)

Crassula ovata

Jade plants—also called money trees—are easy-to-care-for houseplants that grow outdoors in desert environments. Their tolerance for arid conditions is the reason why these plants hardly require watering indoors. Jade plants are small shrubs that can also look like miniature trees. Although these plants can grow in the shade, they need plenty of sunshine to help them thrive.

Growing indoors, people put these potted plants in auspicious places as they are said to be plants that bring good luck.

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans)

Tecoma stans

Yellow bells or yellow trumpetbush is a flowering desert shrub that is drought and heat tolerant. As its name suggests, the yellow bells plant produces brightly-colored golden-yellow flowers in the shape of a funnel. The emerald green foliage turns into a mass of yellow color. This is an excellent shrub for desert landscaping if you need a full-sun flowering ornamental plant.

Desert Palm Trees

Bismarck palm

In the picture: Bismarck palm

Pictures of desert palms gracing beaches are classic images of tropical beaches. However, many palms are suitable for growing in dry, arid conditions of Arizona and other southwestern states. When choosing the right type of palms for a desert climate, it’s essential to consider sun exposure, humidity, and nighttime temperatures.

Here is a list of a few suitable desert palms for hot and dry climates:

  • Acrocomia species—Grows well in arid habitats as long as there is no cold.
  • Bismarck palm tree (Bismarckia nobilis)—Has an impressive display of silvery blue leaves in a fan shape.
  • Cuban paddle palm tree (Copernicia baileyana)—This desert palm tree grows in hot, dry climates and tolerates the cold well.
  • Ravenea xerophila—A slow-growing palm that grows well in the full, hot sun and has good drought tolerance.

Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)

aloe

Aloe vera is a species of succulent plant that thrives in hot, arid climates. Pictures of aloe vera growing in deserts show these fleshy-leafed plants growing in bone-dry, sandy soil surrounded by rocks. There are over 500 species of aloe, with aloe vera being one of the most common. Most types of aloe plants grow in a rosette shape. You can also grow aloe vera indoors in pots.

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens)

Leucophyllum frutescens

Texas sage is a small, compact shrub that produces purple flowers. Other names for this desert-dwelling native Texas shrub are wild lilac, ash-bush, Texas silverleaf, Texas Ranger, and purple sage. Despite its common name Texas sage, the flowering plant isn’t related to the herb sage, Salvia.

You can use this ornamental flowering bush as a specimen plant or along borders in a desert landscape in your backyard.

Bottlebrush (Callistemon)

Callistemon

Bottlebrush plants thrive in hot, full sun desert climate and can endure minimal watering. These small shrubs are native to Australia, where they grow in various climates, including desert regions. These desert plants have colorful red flowers that contrast with the light green needle-like foliage.

Looking at pictures of Bottlebrush flowers, it’s easy to see how it gets its common name as the flowers grow in the shape of bottle brushes.

Arizona Poppy Flowers (Kallstroemia grandiflora)

Arizona Poppy (Kallstroemia grandiflora)

The Arizona poppy is an annual flowering desert plant native to the southwestern United States. The spreading bushy plant blooms after summer monsoon rains with eye-catching orange, yellow, or orange-red flowers. Its foliage comprises simple, pinnately compound, lanceolate leaves and fuzzy stems. The orange flowers grow up to 2.5” (6 cm) wide.

The heat and drought-tolerant Arizona poppies grow in bushy clumps measuring 2 to 3 ft. (0.6 – 1 m) tall and 5 ft. (1.5 m) wide. Each leafy stem has 5 to 16 leaflets, and orange flowers grow solitary on wiry stems. This plant is found in California, Texas, and other sandy deserts.

Marsh Aster (Almutaster pauciflorus)

Marsh Aster (Aster pauciflorus)

The marsh aster is a perennial herbaceous native plant, blooming with dainty purplish flowers. The daisy-like desert plant grows in sandy soils and can tolerate drought conditions. Its flowers are small, cup-shaped, with several thin purple petals surrounding a yellow center. The stems have thin linear leaves up to 4” (10 cm) long.

Marsh aster plants bloom in the desert from spring through summer. The upright, spreading plant grows 12” to 47” (20 – 120 cm) tall and wide. Characteristics of the plant are a shrubby habit with 3 to 10 flowers on each leafy stem. The plant is found in the desert and dry areas in southwestern North America.

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica

Also called the golden cup, the California poppy is a spectacular native plant with vibrantly colored orange flowers. This flowering perennial has lush mounds of dark green lacy foliage surrounded by open, cup-shaped orange flowers. This drought-tolerant plant grows 6” to 12” (15 – 30 cm) tall and wide.

Suitable for growing in USDA zones 8 to 10, the California poppy is ideal for planting in dry, sandy soils. Its low growth and spreading nature make it ideal for ground cover in full sun or planting along paths, beds, and borders. The silky orange poppy flowers grow up to 3” (7.5 cm) across.

Desert Primrose (Oenothera primiveris)

Desert Primrose (Oenothera primiveris)

Desert Primrose is a yellow-flowering desert plant with large, showy flowers. The creeping plant is identified by its sparse, pale green, long oval leaves, large bowl-shaped flowers with papery yellow petals, and a low-growth habit. Desert primrose thrives in open desert areas, blooming after winter rains.

The spreading plant grows 2” to 18” (5 – 45 cm) tall and 40” (101 cm) wide.

Other names for desert primrose include birdcage evening primrose and devil’s lantern. The outstanding feature of the plant is its yellow flowers that look like crepe paper. You will find this wildflower growing in the deserts of Arizona, California, Utah, and Nevada.

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)

The Apache plume is a flowering desert shrub with dainty pure white flowers and bushy foliage. The tiny five-petaled blooms form open star-shaped flowers with a greenish center. These contrast nicely with small green fuzzy leaves growing on whitish or gray woody stems. After flowering, plume-like lavender styles appear.

This plant is native to arid regions in the southwest United States. The large shrubby plant grows 3 to 6 ft. (1 – 1.8 m) tall and up to 6 ft. (1.8 m) wide. The drought-tolerant plant thrives in dry habitats and is ideal for preventing soil erosion in sandy soil.

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum)

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum)

Devil’s claw is a dark pink flowering plant that thrives in the desert and arid habitats. The low-growing, ground-hugging shrub is identified by its large funnel-shaped fragrant magenta flowers, heart-shaped leaves with wavy margins, and large curled seed pods. Devil’s claw grows 4” (10 cm) tall and spreads 24” (60 cm) wide.

Devil’s claw performs best in sandy soils and regions with little rainfall. Identifying features of devil’s claw include trumpet-like flowers with velvety petals that are 1.5” to 2.3” (4 – 6 cm) long, distinctive spiny fruits with hooked stems, and ground-hugging stems.

Other names for devil’s claw include the grapple plant and wood spider. This desert plant is not to be confused with plants in the genus Proboscidea that also have the common name devil’s claw.

Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

Fairy duster is a native blooming, ground-hugging evergreen shrub with spectacular powderpuff flowers. The long-lasting attractive blooms appear throughout the year in desert habitats. These pink and white flowers look like feather dusters — hence the common name. The woody shrub also has fern-like foliage that closes during the night.

Fairy duster desert flowers consist of pinkish or red wiry stamens creating a fuzzy ball-like flower 1.5” (3.5 cm) long. Additionally, the slow-growing shrub has an upright habit of arching branches growing 1 to 3 ft. (0.3 – 1 m) tall and wide.

Fairy duster shrubs are ideal for desert gardens as foundation plantings, informal borders, or accent plants.

Desert Mariposa Lily (Calochortus kennedyi)

Desert Mariposa Lily (Calochortus kennedyi)

The desert mariposa lily is an orange-flowering desert plant with spectacular orange or yellowish blooms. As one of the most beautiful desert plants, the large orange flowers have three petals forming a trumpet shape. The eye-catching flowers measure 1” to 2” (1.2 – 5 cm) wide and bloom from early spring through summer.

Also called mariposa tulip or star tulip, the perennial desert shrub grows 2” to 18” (5 – 45 cm) tall and wide. The attractive shrub is identified by its thin gray leaves 4” to 8” (10 – 20 cm) long, orange, yellow, or red-orange flowers, and a spreading habit.

Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

The chaste tree is a tall shrub or small tree with conical clusters of fragrant lilac blooms and gray-green leaves. This broad and spreading multi-stemmed shrub becomes a mass of purple and lilac colors when blooming in summer. The flowering desert tree grows 3 to 16 ft. (1 – 5 m) tall and thrives in full sun.

The chaste tree is a heat-tolerant, drought-resistant flowering tree. The attractive multi-trunk ornamental tree thrives in several habitats, including dry landscapes. Apart from its spectacular lavender sprays, the tree is characterized by its sage-scented palmate leaves and upright habit with densely-growing foliage.

Mulga (Acacia aneura)

Mulga Tree (Acacia aneura)

The shrub-like mulga tree is a large bushy desert plant with masses of fuzzy yellow bottlebrush flowers. The desert shrub is identified by its rounded, spreading habit, silvery gray-green leaves, and bright yellow summer blossoms that appear after rainfall. The small trees can grow 20 ft. (6 m) tall, but some only reach the height of a small shrub.

The mulga tree is ideal for planting in an arid habitat or xeric landscape. Thanks to its compact size, the shrub is perfect for compact desert gardens where its evergreen foliage and yellow flowers provide year-long interest.

Anacacho Orchid Tree (Bauhinia lunarioides)

Anacacho Orchid Tree (Bauhinia lunarioides)

The Anacacho orchid tree is a small semi-evergreen tree or shrub with spectacular showy white flowers. This flowering desert tree has bi-lobed pale green leaves, orchid-like flowers, silvery-gray bark, and flattened seed pods. The orchid tree grows 6 to 12 ft. (1.8 – 3.6 m) tall.

The Anacacho orchid tree has a slow to moderate growth habit and thrives in full sun, and is tolerant of drought, heat, and poor soils. Attractive features of this desert tree are its leaves that look like butterflies, its beautiful flowers, and its attractive shape.

Cane Cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosior)

Cane Cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosior)

Cane cholla is an eye-catching native cactus with spiny twisting stems, pink flowers, and a shrub-like appearance. The identifying features of the cactus are its rope-like gray-green stems and its cup-shaped bright pink flowers measuring 3” (7.5 cm) across and covered in 1” (2.5 cm) long spikes. After flowering, cactus fruits appear and persist on the desert plant for several months.

Sometimes growing as a cactus tree, cane cholla grows between 3 and 8 ft. (1 – 2.4 m) tall. Its attractive shape gives the plant tremendous visual appeal in desert gardens or xeric landscapes.

Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

The claret cup cactus is a red-flowering desert plant with erect cylindrical blue-green stems covered in sharp spikes. The ornamental feature of this desert cactus is its brightly colored bow-shaped red flowers. The showy flowers measure 3” to 4” (7.5 – 10 cm) long. In the flower’s center are several pink stamens and a nectar chamber.

Claret cup cacti are easy plants to grow in a succulent or desert garden. The attractive plant grows 15” to 24” (37 – 60 cm) tall and 18” to 24” (45 – 60 cm) wide.

Old Man Cactus (Pachycereus schottii)

Old Man Cactus (Pachycereus schottii)

The old man cactus is a large plant with multiple cylindrical thorny stems forming a large shrub. Identifying features of the desert cactus are its stems with prominent ribs, large white summer flowers, and brightly-colored egg-shaped red fruits. This impressive cactus grows 10 ft. (3 m) tall and wide.

Like many species of flowering desert cacti, the old man cactus flowers during summer nights. This habit gives it its other common name — queen of the night. But, being a desert plant, the old man cactus thrives in full sun, arid, well-drained ground, and full sunlight.

Mexican Fencepost Cactus (Lophocereus marginatus)

Mexican Fencepost Cactus (Lophocereus marginatus)

The Mexican fencepost cactus is a clump-forming desert plant characterized by upright, stiff, spiny ribbed stems. This impressive cactus blooms with large pink flowers followed by red or yellow spine-covered oval fruits. The Mexican fencepost cactus grows 10 to 15 ft. (3 – 4.5 m) tall and 4 ft. (1.2 m) wide.

The Mexican fencepost cactus is ideal for planting as a specimen or accent plant in arid, tropical landscapes. Growing in mass plantings lets you create a natural security barrier or windbreak in landscapes that get little rainfall.

Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)

Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)

One of the most attractive flowering desert plants is the purple poppy mallow. Also called wine cups or buffalo roses, the perennial spreading plant has masses of magenta-colored cup-shaped flowers. The upward-facing blooms measure 1.5” to 2.5” (3.8 – 6 cm) wide. These contrast with the lobed, deep-green hairy leaves.

The drought-tolerant, hardy, low-growing shrub grows 8” to 12” (20 – 30 cm) tall and up to 35” (90 cm) wide. This plant is ideal for foundation planting, a border front, or cascading over a retaining wall.

Purple Sage (Salvia dorii)

Purple Sage (Salvia dorii)

Also called desert sage, this purple-flowering heat-tolerant plant is a low-growing woody shrub with deep blue-violet flowering spikes. The clumping shrub blooms in spring and summer, and the purple colors contrast nicely with the aromatic lance-shaped silvery-gray leaves. Purple sage grows 1 to 3 ft. (0.3 – 1 m) tall and up to 4 ft. (1.2 m) wide.

Purple sage is a freely-spreading subshrub that thrives in arid, sandy, well-drained soils. You can grow the desert shrub as an attractive border accent, foundation planting, or ground cover in a desert garden. Once established, the shrub requires little watering, and it tolerates cold just as well as heat.

Torchwood Copal (Bursera fagaroides)

Torchwood Copal (Bursera fagaroides)

The torchwood copal is a desert-living shrub or small tree with clusters of white flowers, red-tinged bark, and small pinnate leaves. The woody shrub is found in the Sonoran Desert, California, and Arizona. Thriving in arid habitats, the desert shrub has small creamy-white flowers and a fast growth rate.

Torchwood copal grows 10 to 32 ft.  (3 – 10 m) tall.

Other features of the torchwood copal ornamental tree are its short, swollen trunk with flaky, papery bark, aromatic resin, and an attractive branching habit. The decorative tree is easy to grow in the ground indoors or outdoors and is suitable for a patio container.

Pencil Tree (Euphorbia tirucalli)

Pencil Tree (Euphorbia tirucalli)

The pencil tree is a heat-loving desert shrub or small tree that performs well in semi-arid tropical habitats. Identifying features of the small desert tree are its tall branches, fleshy stems, and yellow flowers. The tree can reach 23 ft. (7 m) tall, and its succulent stems contain toxic sap.

This unusual tree has clumps of succulent stems growing at the end of silvery-gray branches. Depending on the species, the stems can be reddish-yellow or golden-yellow. Therefore, other names of the tree include fire stick tree, milk bushy, or Indian tree spurge.

Mexican Lime Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus)

Mexican Lime Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus)

The Mexican lime cactus is a decorative desert plant with a lime-green barrel-shaped stem covered in orange-red spikes. This plant is a clumping type of cactus, and its barrel shape eventually becomes slender and cylindrical. The cactus blooms with bright red-orange flowers, creating an attractive crowning ring.

The Mexican lime cactus is an excellent landscaping plant in arid regions and adds texture, shape, and color. Colorful barrel-shaped stems emerge around the central plant creating a clump of cacti. You can plant the spiky cactus in rock gardens, desert gardens, or containers for a deck or entranceway.

Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus)

Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus)

Also called queen’s wreath, the coral vine is an attractive vining desert plant with large heart-shaped leaves and white or pink flowers. Dainty pinkish flowers and large leaves grow on long vines stretching up to 22 ft. (7 m). The hardy plant is native to the northern Sonora Desert and Mexico.

Coral vine spreads along sandy, dry soils via its large underground tubers. The trailing vines have cordate (heart-shaped) leaves measuring 2” to 3” (2.5 – 7.5 cm) wide. The small pink or white flowers grow in small clusters on thin stems.

Landscaping used for the coral vine includes cascading over a fence or wall, growing up a trellis or arbor, or as flowering ground cover for desert landscapes and full sun.

Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrata)

Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrata)

Beaked yucca is an impressive tree-like plant with a large spiky blue-green crown of stiff, pointed strap-like leaves. Native to desert areas of the Southwestern United States, the yucca plant grows 15 ft. (4.5 m) tall. It features large clusters of spring-blooming white flowers 3 ft. (1 m) tall.

Beaked yucca is an excellent plant to add color and texture to xeriscape landscaping. The attractive desert plant is also perfect as a specimen tree or a focal point in rocky, porous soil.

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