What Kind of Plants Are Able to Live in the Desert?

You may wonder how any type of plant could possibly grow in the harsh environment of a desert, but many do. Surviving these conditions--aridity and temperatures that range from cold to very hot over the course of a single day--takes a well-adapted plant with unique characteristics. Dry and hot desert surroundings work well for cactus and varieties of plants that thrive in the desert.


Succulent desert plants include all cacti and a few other varieties. These plants survive long dry periods through storing water. Used in landscaping as focal points or ground cover or grown in pots and containers, cactus plants require water only once a month during the summer season. Some cactus species produce dramatic blossoms in spring and summer. Examples of these desert plants include barrel cactus, organ pipe cactus, cholla, saguaro, prickly pear, agave, hedgehog and datil yucca. Plants in this group range in height from a few inches to more than 20 feet tall.

Desert Flowers

Whether annual or perennial, many types of wildflowers are able to live in the desert. These kinds of desert plants often remain dormant through dry periods and the winter season. Seeds from these plants sometimes do not germinate for years, and bloom times vary depending upon the presence of good growing conditions. The majority of plants that grow in the desert are annuals, which live for only short periods, concentrating more on formulating seeds than surviving. They range in height from 1 to 4 feet and come in multiple colors and varieties. Desert annuals include Southwestern cosmos, golden dyssodia, Maximilian sunflower and chia. Low-water perennials include desert marigold, chocolate flower, gaura, blackfoot daisy and Jerusalem sage.

Trees, Shrubs and Grasses

Low-water trees that are able to live in the desert can grow in heights ranging from 8 feet to more than 40 feet with matching spreads. Varieties of desert trees include guajillo, various other acacia species and Mexican bird of paradise. Shrubs that thrive in desert conditions range in size from the 1-foot-tall flattop buckwheat up to the 15-foot tall feather bush. A number of the desert shrubs produce vibrant blossoms in an array of colors and sizes. Desert grasses, including ornamentals, live and thrive in deserts. Ranging in height from 1.5 feet to 4 feet, desert-loving grasses include Mexican thread grass, bamboo muhly, deergrass and sideoats grama.

Keywords: low-water annuals, desert plants, succulent desert plants