What Kinds of Plants Live in the Desert?

The arid, hot landscape of the desert, be it in the American Southwest, in Central America or Australia, is a fascinating environment that produces a magical range of native plants. Plants in the desert often have an exotic, almost alien appearance, thanks to the adaptations they have made in order to survive the harsh desert climate.

Arizona Poppy

Arizona poppy (Kallstroemia grandiflora) is an herbaceous annual that produces bright orange, cup shaped flowers similar in appearance to the California poppy. Though the flower has no discernible fragrance, the plant attracts butterflies and bees in droves. Also sometimes called "summer poppy," the plant blooms in mid summer and well into autumn. Arizona poppies can be found in sandy grasslands throughout the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and into Mexico.

Barrel Cactus

Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus) is a large, cylindrical cactus that reaches an average height of between 5 and 10 feet. The cactus is one of the largest cacti species in North America, growing throughout the American Southwest and down into Central Mexico. Barrel cactus produces a lovely crown of flowers in late spring to mid summer, often with yellow or bright red coloring. The fruits of the plant are rarely eaten, but the pulp of the cactus is the primary ingredient in cactus candy. Barrel cactus can be found in the wild growing on desert washes and slopes, as well as along canyon walls.

Desert Marigold

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) is a low growing shrub with grayish, hairy foliage and striking yellow blooms. Desert marigold is a popular ornamental plant for its drought tolerance and long-lasting blooming time, which can go from April until November. The plant grows throughout the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, as well as Mexico. Desert marigold prefers full sunlight and sandy soils, often growing on sandy plains and mesas. When the plant finishes flowering, the seeds attract birds such as the black-throated-sparrow.

Keywords: desert plants, Southwest flora, plant kinds

About this Author

Michelle Wishhart is a writer based out of Astoria, Ore. She has been writing professionally for five years, starting with her position as a staff arts writer for an alternative weekly paper in Santa Cruz. She has a B.A. in fine arts from the University of California in Santa Cruz and a minor in English literature.