Desert Plants in Arizona

Plants have to be hardy to survive in the harsh Arizona climate. Little water save flash floods, scorching temperatures, little shady and plenty of hot, direct sunlight take their toll on flora and fauna alike. Fortunately, there are many plants that have adapted to life in the hot Arizona desert; for many, those adaptations make them completely unique to the southwestern United States.


The only place in the world to find the saguaro cactus is in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. An extremely slow-growing plant, the cactus only grows a few inches in its first eight years in life, but can live up to 200 years, and reach a weight of 6 tons and a height of more than 50 feet. The Saguaro stores water in its root system, which grows out from the plant only inches below the surface. This is to take full advantage of the much-needed water. The roots can expand and contract to hold enough water to get the cactus through the dry spells between floods. In fact, much of the saguaro's weight is in water. The Saguaro is an important part of the Arizona ecosystem; many animals nest in the cactus, and, when no other water sources are available, some will even eat the flesh.

Agave Palmeri

The agave palmeri is a succulent evergreen that is one member of a family that can be found throughout Arizona. Also known as the century plant, it has a lifespan of between five and 25 years. During that time, the agave will flower once, and then die. The agave palmeri is the largest agave that is native to the United States. It can grow to be up to 2 feet in height and 2 feet in width. Its unique flower stalks can reach heights of up to 18 feet, and have an amazing growth rate of up to 1 foot per day. They produce a nectar that is sought by native birds, insects, butterflies and even bats. Like the saguaro, its shallow root system allows it to take full advantage of fast, hard rains.

Desert Milkweed

These tall, reed-like plants can be found in desert washes, and are also a frequent sight along the roadsides. Traditionally, many Native Americans used it as a cure for headaches and toothaches, as well as for stomach disorders and heart problems. Anywhere from 3 to 5 feet tall with yellow or cream-colored flowers, these plants are commonly used as accent plants in landscaping projects. They're also valuable in gardens for another reason--they attract butterflies. For some butterflies, milkweed is the only acceptable food source for their caterpillars. Not only do the caterpillars eat the leaves of the plant, but adult butterflies feed on the plant's nectar as well.

Keywords: Arizona plants, desert plants, saguaro cactus