Desert Plants in the U.S. & Mexico

The United States is home to a number of deserts, from the high desert of the Mojave which sprawls through California into Nevada, Utah and Arizon, to the enormous Sonoran Desert of Southern California and Arizona. These arid regions support an incredible diversity of flora, and many of these unique plants trail through the U.S. into Mexico as well.

Barrel Cactus

Both American and Mexican deserts are home to the barrel cactus, of the genus Ferocactus. Barrel cacti have a rounded, barrel-like shape, are covered in a thick layering of spines and are accented by a cluster of yellow or red flowers that bloom on the very top of the cactus. The pulp from the barrel cactus is often used in cactus candy, a fact that has contributed to the decrease in their population. The largest cactus in American deserts, the barrel cactus can be found in Southern Arizona, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts in California, and in Central Mexico.

Desert Willow

The desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) is a deciduous tree native to California that showcases floppy white flowers that resemble orchids. Though desert willows resemble true willows with their draping branches and long thin leaves, they are actually members of the Bignonia family. They grow along desert creeks and stream beds and are found primarily in the Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of California, as well as in high elevation areas of Northern Mexico.

Big Sagebrush

Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), also called basin sagebrush, is a perennial shrub that grows from California to Nebraska, Canada and Northern Mexico. The plant has branches which grow upwards and are covered in small, three-lobed leaves that change from green to gray as the plant ages. The plant produces tiny yellow and white clusters of flowers in the late summer. Big sagebrush is the state plant of Nevada, and the plant sustains many grazing wild animals as well as domestic livestock.

Keywords: desert plants, US plants, Mexican plants

About this Author

Natalie Phillips is a writer based out of Portland, OR. She has been writing professionally for five years, starting with her position as a staff arts writer for City on a Hill Press in Santa Cruz. She has a BA in fine arts from the University of California in Santa Cruz and a minor in English Literature.