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Desert Berry Plants

Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) in red sand desert image by Lars Lachmann from

Berries are popularly thought to be any fruit that is small, colorful, and sometimes edible. Botanists define a berry as a fleshy fruit that is produced from a single ovary embedded with seeds. A strawberry is an example. Several desert plants yield what look like berries; most of these are bitter and inedible.

Desert Hackberry

The Desert Hackberry (Celtis pallida)--also called Spiny Hackberry, Granjeno, Garabata and Chaparral--is a spiny, sprawling shrub native to the deserts of the Southwest from Texas through Arizona and south into Mexico. The Desert Hackberry contains sharp thorns on stout branches and produces yellow flowers. Its sweet, orange berries, which have a single seed, are produced in the fall; they are a favorite food of birds and small mammals.

Red Barberry

The Red Barberry (Mahonia haematocarpa) is a desert evergreen with waxy, blue-green leaves that resemble that of the holly plant. It yields clusters of bright yellow flowers and juicy, bright-red berries that are ½ inch wide. These true berries are edible but sour. The plant is native to desert areas of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.


The Wolfberry (Lycium exsertum) also called the Arizona Desert-Thorn, is a thorny, silvery-gray shrub that grows 6 feet tall and is common in washes of the lower Sonora Desert. The wolfberry plant produces whitish-green flowers tinged with purple; its yellowish-brown to red berries taste vaguely like tomatoes and contain several seeds.

Sugar Bush

The Sugar Bush (Rhus ovate) is an evergreen shrub native to Southern California and Arizona. It lives among chaparral in the upper Sonoran desert and ranges from Santa Barbara, California, south to Baja, California. The plant's reddish berry, actually a drupe (meaning that it contains a single seed), is ¼ to 2/3 inch wide. Combined with sugar, the berry makes a drink not unlike lemonade.

Juniper Berries

The Utah Juniper (Cupressaceae Juniperus osteosperma) and other species of juniper produce what look like berries and are called berries, but are actually berry-like cones. The berries of the Utah Juniper are ¼ to ½ inch wide and turn from blue-gray to reddish-brown when they are mature.

The Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), grown throughout temperate climates of North America and Europe, yield the berries that are used as a culinary seasoning and to flavor gin and other distilled liquors.The Utah Juniper is found in the deserts of the American Southwest.

Western Soapberry

The Western Soapberry (Sapindaceae), is a 10- to 50-foot-tall tree with low branches and a round crown found in arid areas of Texas and the American Southwest. It produces clusters of cream-colored flowers and a yellow fruit, or berry, that is about ½ inch wide. The berry contains the alkaloid saponin, making it poisonous.

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