The deserts of the US are home to numerous distinctive and rare plants. Unfortunately, many of the native desert species are threatened or endangered. The USDA, National Forest Service and many state and privately funded organizations work to preserve these flora, which are vital parts of the unique regional desert biomes. Some rare or threatened desert species are propagated by arboretums and desert conservation groups, which make the plants available for sale to concerned gardeners.
Common Bear Poppy
Common bear poppy, Arctomecon humilis Coville, also called dwarf bear poppy, is an endangered plant that is found only in a small range within 12.5 miles of St. George in southwestern Utah. It is a perennial forb that displays a small mound of white flowers, each having four delicate petals. This plant blooms in the late spring.
Barneby Desert Milkvetch
Barneby desert milkvetch, Astragalus desereticus Barneby, is an endangered plant species growing in one small area in central northern Utah. Several other species of milkvetch are on threatened species lists. The milkvetch are legumes that have pea-like flowers and form pea-like pods containing large seeds.
Pierson’s milkvetch, Astragalus magdalenae var. peirsonii, is listed as endangered on the California list, and is on the Federal list as a threatened species. It is found only in the Algodones Dunes in southern California, and in the adjoining desert region in Sonora, Mexico. The large pea-like seed is an adaptation that gives seedlings a boost. It provides early food for seedlings from the seed instead of forcing the tiny plants to pull nutrients from the desert.
Algodones Dunes Sunflower
The Algodones Dunes sunflower, Helianthus niveus Tephrodes, grows in California only in the Algodones Dunes region, mainly along the bases of the large dunes. Its rapid growth habit is suited to the shifting sand environment in which it lives. The Algodones Dunes sunflower is also found across the border in limited numbers in the dunes in Mexico. This sunflower blooms twice a year, from March to May, and from October to January, which means that it disperses seeds twice a year. This blooming adaptation helps the species survive the constantly moving sands. However, the dwindling plant population has placed it on the California endangered list.
Mesa Verde Fishhook Cactus
The tiny Mesa Verde fishhook cactus, Sclerocactus mesae-verdae, is a federally threatened species that is endangered in New Mexico. The small cactus is a mere one inch tall or less, found in a tiny area in the extreme northwest corner of New Mexico and the extreme southwest corner of Colorado within 150 miles of the Four Corners region.