Uses of Desert Plants

Desert plants are typically drought resistant, capable of withstanding long periods without moisture. Many have sharp thornlike protrusions, making them somewhat unapproachable. Desert plants include cactus, succulents, trees and shrubs. Like other plants in nature's kingdom, desert plants fill specific needs for people and nature.

Food and Beverage

Desert plants provide food for wildlife and humans. Birds feast on berries from the barberry bush and saguaro cactus, and fruit from the prickly pear cactus, while hummingbirds enjoy the nectar from a variety of plants, such as the flame honeysuckle bush and the Aloe vera plant. The desert tortoise's survival depends on desert plants, as its diet consists primarily of vegetation. Early desert-dwelling Native Americans relied on desert plants. According to Joshua Tree Climb, Native Americans ate agave leaves like artichoke leaves, ground cactus seeds to make gruel, and ate most parts of the beavertail cactus. Today, jam made from beavertail cactus is available. According to an article by Jonathan DuHamel on Tucson Citizen, the "Arizona-Sonoran Desert region has more wild edible plants than anywhere else on the planet." Beverages made from some desert plants include tequila, made from the agave plant.


Desert plants provide a home for wildlife. One example is the Joshua tree or Agavaceae Yucca brevifolia, a home for the yucca night lizard and other desert creatures. Birds make nests in the limbs of mesquite, tamarisk and other desert trees and in some cactus and shrubs, while other desert wildlife take refuge in crevices of living and decaying plant life. The creosote bush provides a home for over a dozen different insects. Yet, not just animals use desert plants to prove a haven; materials from various desert plants provide building materials for human homes, such as the branches from the Joshua tree, once used by the southwest cliff dwellers to provide beams for structures.

Raw Materials

Throughout the years, humans utilized raw materials from desert plants in a variety of ways. At one time Catholic priests burned leaves from the brittle bush, a desert plant with daisylike flowers, as incense. Native Americans made resinlike material for pottery and arrow making from the creosote bush, and used the plant medicinally to treat wounds, burns, rheumatism and colds. Fiber from plants such as the Mojave yucca makes ropes and fabriclike material. Wood from the mesquite tree provides fuel for cooking, and its sap makes glue.

Keywords: Desert plant uses, Edible desert plants, Native Americans

About this Author

Ann Johnson has been a freelance writer since 1995. She previously served as the editor of a community magazine in Southern California and was also an active real estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University of Fullerton.