Desert Plants in North America

Garden plants in the desert must have the ability to withstand often staggering heat in the triple digits during the day and freezing nights. The plants should have the ability to thrive on very little water or store water in their fleshy foliage for future use. Full sunshine conditions should not adversely effect the plants. North American deserts can be diverse. Some deserts will offer a long summer growing season, and others, such as high-altitude deserts, offer a short growing season.

Fishhook Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii)

The fishhook barrel cactus is cylindrical in shape and sports thorns that resemble a fishhook. The cactus plant is one of the largest native cacti in North America and is easily grown in the desert xeriscape. Cold nights that dip to 10 degrees Fahrenheit and hot days in the triple digits have no effect on the plant. Its water needs are minimal, and it can subsist on annual rainfall only. Flowering takes place between August and September, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Blossoms are either orange-red or yellow depending on the variety of barrel cactus. The cactus is widely used in the manufacture of various candies. The fruit of the plant can be consumed but is considered unpalatable by most. The Native Americans would boil the blossoms to eat. In many areas of the U.S., the barrel cactus is considered a protected plant species.

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata)

Many creosote bushes growing in the wild are believed to be over a 1,000 years old. The bush grows as on main bush with several smaller bushings sprouting up around the parent bush from a runner root system. The bush is an evergreen and will easily grow in up to 4,000-feet elevation. The bush is called 'creosote' because of the heavy aroma of tar creosote the leaves produce. The plant blossoms in tiny yellow flowers. The Native Americans chewed the foliage to induce vomiting during times of sickness and also made antiseptic paste from the foliage. The plant produces tiny gray fruit that is furry in appearance but unpalatable. The shrub is a strong desert plant that can easily compete for a minimal rainfall and flourish. The creosote bush is the most drought-tolerant plant in the North American desert according to Desert Ecology at the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)

The prickly pear cactus is native to North America, but it is now widely grown around the world. The cactus can attain heights of up to 7-feet tall. It is cultivated for its lovely flowers that appear in varying colors of yellow, red, orange and purple on the same plant species. The fruit is quite edible and marketed as a profitable crop. It can be eaten raw, made into jellies and cooked in a variety of recipes. The pads, which are actually considered to be the plants stems, are also cooked and used raw in salads. In the landscape the prickly pear is often used as a desert hedge. The sap of the prickly pear is similar to the aloe vera and can be used as an antiseptic applied to cuts, abrasions and burns, according to the Cooperative Extension at the University of California.

Mojave Aster (Charidryras neumoegeni)

The Mojave aster (Charidryras neumoegeni) blooms 2-inch, daisy-like flowers that are purple with a sunny yellow middle. The flowers appear in the spring between March and May but can also repeat bloom in the fall, according the Bureau of Land Management. The flowers belong to the same family as the sunflower (Asteraceae). The plant is a prolific bloomer and will often sport 20 flower-heads at a time. The plant can grow 30-inches high in a bushy growth habit. It can thrive in rocky desert terrain between an elevation of 2,000-feet to 5,500-feet.

Keywords: desert plants, barrel cactus, prickly pear cactus, creosote bush, desert aster