Desert Plants That Grow in Cold Climates

Unlike the hot deserts of the world such as the Saraha and Arabian, the deserts in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah all produce cold temperatures at times. Snow for these deserts is not uncommon in the winter and neither is high overall rainfall in the summer. Cold deserts have developed a considerable amount of specialized vegetation that have survived and thrived these ranges of temperatures.

Agave Utahensis

Also known as the Kaibab century plant and Utah Agave, Agave utahensis is a succulent perennial that grows in the deserts of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. It has blue-green leaves that are short, stout and upright. The blue-green, dagger-like leaves of Agave utahensis appear from a basal rosette and have spines on their edges and tips. A tall stalk with many yellow flowers may grow in the spring or early summer and can grow more than 1 foot per day. These flowers are waxy in appearance and texture. The flower-bearing rosette dies after blooming. Planting in full sun and an average temperature of 50 degrees F will encourage growth. Requiring very little water when established, Agave utahensis forms clumping, small rosettes that grow up to 18 inches tall and 16 inches wide. It is an ideal plant in zones 6 to 10 and hardy to minus 10 degrees F.

Yucca Baccata

Yucca baccata, also known as banana yucca, Datil yucca, Spanish bayonet, Spanish dagger or amole, has large, sharply-pointed, stout straplike leaves That are 12 to 40 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. The plant has a stemless rosette and short prostrate trunk. Older plants produce multiple rosettes that grow up to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Much older plants can form clusters that spread up to 15 feet. Found in the deserts of Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, yucca baccata can grow in zones 5 to 12 and is hardy to minus 29 degrees F. Once established, the plant requires little to no water except for once a month in the summer. Edible, fleshy fruits follow white flowers that bloom in spring. The banana-looking fruits are about 5 inches long.

Purshia Stansburiana

Commonly known as Cliff Rose, Purshia stansburiana is a perennial tree or shrub that is native to the north edges of the Mojave Desert to Colorado, Utah and Arizona. It can mature to as high as 25 feet and produces 1-inch flowers of white to creamy yellow from April to June. An intricate mass of white, feathery fruits follows the blooming period. Its bark is reddish and peeling. Leathery, pinnately compound leaves are green above and woolly-white below. Purshia stansburiana prefers sun and water until established, then becomes tolerant to drought. The plant can handle a temperature of minus 30 degrees F.

Keywords: cold desert, yucca plant, agave utahensis, cliff rose, perennial desert plants

About this Author

Josie Borlongan is a full-time IT Manager and a writer. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology from Saint Louis University, Philippines. Borlongan is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and a Cisco Certified Network Associate.