Desert Plants in the United States

Abundant sunshine, little rainfall and sandy soil in the desert regions of the United States present challenges to home gardeners. Water conservation in these areas is a must; expansive lawns and water-guzzling plants are not practical. Water quickly drains out of the sandy soil taking nutrients with it. Denver, Colorado, first came up with a solution to this problem in 1981: Xeriscaping--the practice of landscaping with drought-tolerant plants. Western states like California, Arizona and New Mexico must conserve water due to little rainfall, but homeowners in these states have many drought-tolerant plants from which to choose.


Succulents such as agave are often used in the western home landscape because they require little to moderate water and full sun. During long periods of drought, agave plants may shrivel, but plump up again after watering or rainfall. It may take several years for agave to flower and, after flowering, the foliage dies leaving suckers behind that make new plants.

Smoke Tree

The smoke tree is native to the deserts of Arizona, Southern California, and Baja California. It grows 10 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. This deciduous (loses its leaves in winter) tree requires little to no water. In late spring, fragrant blossoms of violet-purple, sweet pea-shaped flowers appear. Smoke tree starts easily from seed.

California Buckeye

California buckeye grows 10 to 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Its leaves drop by July in the wild, but remain on the tree until autumn in the home landscape if the tree gets moderate water. In the spring, fragrant, cream-colored flower plumes adorn the tree giving it the appearance of a giant candelabra. Shiny brown seeds produced in the big pear-shaped fruits are used in dried flower arrangements. The seeds sprout easily, and the seedlings are sometimes trained into bonsais.


Yuccas grow wild throughout the western and southwestern United States. Some yuccas are stemless and grow to tree height. Others grow sword-shaped leaves and clusters of white, round flowers. Yuccas require full sun and little to moderate water, and survive with an occasional deep soaking. Some species make good indoor plants. They grow well in the dry air of western homes in hot, sunny windows. When they grow too large, homeowners plant them outside.

Indian Rice Grass

The seeds of Indian rice grass, once harvested by Native Americans for food, adorn home landscapes today. This plant forms a clump 1 to 2 foot tall and 1 to 2 foot wide with leaves that spread at the top. The leaves are bright green in cool weather and turn golden brown during the hot days of summer. This perennial grass requires full sun and little to no water.

Keywords: desert plants, plants of desert, United States desert, Arizonia desert plants, California desert plants

About this Author

Brenda Reeves started writing in 1979. Specializing in gardening topics, her articles appear on numerous Web sites, including eHow. Reeves has a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from California State University, Northridge.