Plants in the Desert in Mexico

Desert plants are adapted to long periods of sever drought, scorching day temperatures and chilly nights. The deserts of Mexico have a variety of cacti, thorny shrubs and hardy trees. Desert plants are often-covered in sharp thorns for protection. Though barren looking, the desert is a rich place of hardy plants that have adapted to some of the harshest growing regions. When a rain does dampen the deserts of Mexico, many plants take advantage of the rare moisture and bloom.

Nopal Cactus

The nopal cactus, also called the prickly pear, grows in the deserts of Mexico. The plant grows rabbit-ear shaped paddles in a seemingly chaotic arrangement. After a rain, red fruits emerge from the tips of the paddles. Nopal cactus self-propagates from seed and by self-cloning. When a paddle falls to the ground, it will put out roots and begin sprouting new paddles. A part of Mexico's culinary tradition, nopal cactus paddles and fruits are sold at markets throughout the region.


Brittlebush grows in Mexico's Sonora Desert and Mojave Desert areas. This low-growing shrub has silvery leaves and a thick, woody stem. In the spring between May and June, tiny yellow flowers emerge on long stems. Brittlebush grows 2 to 5 feet tall in round, isolated clumps. This cold-sensitive shrub has small hairs on its leaves to protect it from the hot days and cold nights of the desert region. According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the brittlebrush is a relative of the sunflower.

Barrel Cactus

Barrel cacti grow in the Sonora, Chihuahua and Mojave deserts of Mexico. This barrel shaped member of the cactus family grows 5 to 11 feet tall. The sharp, 4-inch spines, grow on vertical ridges all over the outside of the plant. The barrel cactus provided native people with food from the flesh, water squeezed from the pulp, and fishhooks made from the spines. The barrel cactus produces red and yellow-green flowers in a circular shape around the top of the plant.

Velvet Mesquite

With a 160-foot deep tap-root, the velvet mesquite can tap into water supplies far below the scorched surface of the desert. This large shrub or small tree grows approximately 30-feet tall. After a rain, 4-inch green-yellow flowers emerge and form seedpods. According to Pima Community College, the seeds have to undergo scarification to germinate. Natural methods of scarification include tumbling against rocks in a flash flood or passing through the digestive tracks of an invertebrate animal.

Keywords: desert plants, Mexico desert cacti, Mexico plants

About this Author

Eulalia Palomo has been a freelance writer with Demand Studio since 2009, writing for GardenGuides and eHow. She has studied herbal and alternative medicine, and worked as a landscape artist and gardener. Palomo is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts in liberal studies from Boston University Online.