Desert Shrubs With Thorns

The desert has a surprising amount of diverse vegetation, and many of the plants, shrubs and trees have thorns. These thorns protect the plant from foraging animals, birds or destruction.


Graythorn is a perennial shrub that's native to Arizona. It is large and wide, growing up to 10 feet tall with small white flowers that bloom in the summer. Tiny, sharp thorns cover the branches of the graythorn, where it protects fruit that birds such as quail and doves relish. This plant has medicinal value as well, as the roots can be boiled and used as soap.


The subtropical shrub/vines bougainvillea is possibly one of the most well-known desert plants with thorns, mainly for its bright foliage that blooms year-round. It thrives in desert environments, but can grow in other climates as well. These thick wood stems have large thorns, sometimes reaching beyond 2 inches in length. This shrub grows quickly and produces purple and pink flowers.

Catclaw Acacia

This vicious perennial with an ironic name is ubiquitous to Verde Valley. The curved thorns resemble cat claws, and hook into anything that bumps into them. During spring, yellow flowers cover the shrub, making the thorns even more difficult to identify. Cat claw acacia can grow up to 10 feet tall and skinny.


This perennial shrub, also known as a coach whip, can grow up to 20 feet tall with flexible, wobbly, thorny arms that shoot up from the ground roots. When water is plentiful, the stems are covered in lush green leaves; during dry times, they are bare. Each spring and summer season, the ocotillo blooms with red and orange flowers that add splashes of color to the desert landscape. It thrives on mountainsides and rocky slopes. This plant resembles a cacti, but it is not classified as one.

Keywords: desert plants, thorny desert plants, desert vegetation

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Lauren Wise is a journalism major from Arizona State University with over forty published magazine and media articles and over 400 Web site articles. Wise owns Midnight Publishing with over eight years experience as a writer, editor, copywriter and columnist. She specializes in food and wine, music and pop culture. Her writing has appeared in magazines including Runway, A2Z, Scottsdale Luxury Living and True West.