Plants of the Mojove Desert

The Mojave desert is a high desert which expands across Southern California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Despite the arid conditions of the vast space, the Mojave desert hosts a rich selection of native flora. Cacti, trees and flowers are just a few of the plant types that call the Mojave desert home.

Barrel Cactus

A native of the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts, the barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni), also called a compass cactus, is a cylinder-shaped cactus that can reach heights of between 5 and 11 feet. One of the largest cactus species in North America, the barrel cactus can be found throughout the Mojave desert in washes and along canyon walls. The plant is covered in a dense layer of 3- to 4-inch spines and topped with a crown of red or yellow flowers. The thick-skinned fruits of the plant are edible, and are the main ingredient of cactus candy. The fruits can also be eaten raw, although they may be an acquired taste for some.


A relative of the sunflower, brittlebush (Encilia farinosa) is a low-growing flowering shrub that has a rounded habit. The plant boasts spindly stems and greenish gray foliage, which is accented by 2- to 3-inch bright yellow daisy flowers. Brittle bush grows throughout both the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, through southeastern California, Nevada, Arizona and down into Mexico. The colorful plant, which explodes into bloom in early spring and summer, can be found growing in sunny locations along desert washes and slopes. Thanks to their pleasing aroma, the woody stems of the plant were traditionally burnt as incense for religious purposes in the early times of California's settlements.

Mojave Yucca

The Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera ), also sometimes called Spanish bayonet, is a flowering shrub that sports sharp, rigid leaves that point 2 to 4 feet outwards from the center of the plant. A native of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, Mojave yucca can be found growing along desert slopes and plains at elevations below 7,000 feet. The plant can be seen in much of the American Southwest, including Baja. The Mojave yucca is notable for its attractive purple-tinged flowers, which appear in dense clusters throughout summer and early autumn. The flowers give way to long blackish fruits, which are edible, though tough. Like other yucca species, the Mojave yucca is pollinated by a moth, specifically the pronuba moth.

Keywords: Mojave desert plants, desert plants, plant types, Mojave plant types, Mojave cactus, Mojave yucca

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.