Unique Plants of the Desert

Desert plants are unique because they need to survive in one of the harshest of environments. Cacti, trees, flowers and shrubs have learned over the millennia to turn sand, rocks and very little moisture into a place bursting with life and color.

Hedgehog Cactus

The hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) is a small, barrel-shaped cactus and one of the first to bloom in the spring. It grows in clumps or mounds and is made up of as many has hundreds of stems. The green stems can grow as tall as a foot and as wide as 2 1/2 inches. It produces cup-shaped flowers that are deep red in color and 1 to 2 inches in length alonng with a red edible fruit. Each flower will last three to five days and stays open 24 hours a day. Hedgehog cacti will attract hummingbirds

Desert Lily

The desert lily (Hesperocallis undulata) grows in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of southeastern California, western Arizona and northwestern Mexico. The plant produces stems from 1 to 4 feet long that has 2 1/2 inch wide cream-colored flowers that bloom from March through May. The flowers grow in clusters that can be up to a foot in length. The leaves grow just above the ground and are blue/green in color with white margins. They measure an inch wide and 8 to 20 inches long. The lily bulb can remain dormant in the ground for years until the desert environment to produce enough moisture for it to burst into bloom.

The Whitethorn Acacia

The whitethorn acacia (Acacia constricta) is a bean producing, semi-evergreen shrub that grows from a couple of feet to 16 feet in height. The plant produces small green to gray lace-like leaves and small, yellow puffball-like flowers that appear in the spring and if conditions are right, again in late summer. The flowers are less than a half-inch in diameter, yellow in color, and give off a sweet fragrance at night. The trunks, branches and twigs grow in a zigzag pattern, giving each shrub a unique look. The new growth is red, which turns a gray/brown as it grows older.The woody growth also has half-inch long needle-sharp thorns. The plant has pairs of large leaflets that are made up of smaller leaflets. This type of leaf is called a "bipinnately compound." This shrub can live for 70 years or more.

California Fan Palm

The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) grows in the oases of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, thriving on the moist soils on the banks of alkaline streams. The tree grows to a height of anywhere from 20 to 60 feet and features a trunk 2 to 3 feet in diameter but has no branches. It produces evergreen leaves that grow from 3 to 5 feet in length right from the trunk, starting at the bottom. It also has white funnel-shaped flowers that grow in clusters, as well as small, black, edible berries. As the old leaves die, they hang down alongside the trunk and the new leaves grow in a circle around the top. The dead leaves become home to a variety of birds, insects and small rodents.

Keywords: desert plants, cacti, desert lily

About this Author

Regina Sass is based in the Adirondack Region of New York State. She has been a writer for 10 years writing for publications in the real estate and retail industries. Online experience includes writing,advertising and editing for an educational web site. Sass is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.