Harsh heat and little rain make desert areas such as Phoenix and Death Valley seem as though they should be lifeless. Much to many people's surprise, however, these deserts are filled with unique and colorful plants. From tumbleweeds to Joshua trees, the vast amount of life present in the desert is truly impressive .
Cacti are plants common to drought regions around the world. With their distinctive thick, large leaves and protective spines, they are a true trademark of the desert. Common varieties of cactus in most desert regions include barrel, saguaro and cholla. While these thick-stalked spiny wonders may appear hostile at first glance, they are also capable of producing some of the most beautiful and useful flowers in the world. For example, the barrel cactus's flower is filled with a sweet nectar used to make cactus jam, and the leaves of the agave plant produce a liquid used in agave sweetener.
Even desert plants need to attract bees and hummingbirds for pollination. To do this, the brittle bush, a deciduous shrub, produces hundreds of yellow blossoms every spring. The creosote bush produces long branches with tiny yellow flowers. This bush is known for its long arms, tar-like smell and antiseptic leaves.
While not quite as common as desert shrubs, trees are also living in these dry wastelands. The desert ironwood is a member of the pea family and has flowers that look like sweet peas. Joshua trees were originally named by Mormon pioneers as they crossed the desert. The Joshua tree, which can grow as tall as 40 feet, can only be seen today in various national parks of Arizona and California.