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What Are Desert Plants?

By Jann Seal
Desert plants tolerate severe temperatures and yield brightly colored flowers.
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Desert plants are those that have acclimatized to the extreme weather conditions found in a hot and dry environment. A desert can experience high temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit and lows below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot and dry deserts, like those found in the American Southwest, are ablaze with flowers and greenery during the springtime due to the spring rainfall, limited though it may be. Desert plants can collect, store and retain water, flower and reproduce.


Cacti are synonymous with the desert and have evolved to thrive in the intense hot and cold of a desert setting. They are known as succulents, but not all succulents are classified as cacti. The roots of the cactus don't tolerate "wet feet" and grow best in a well-drained soil. The stems of the cactus store the water they collect during the wet, winter months and provide the nutrients for the plant during the dry season. Cactus flowers are brilliant in color and bloom heavily during May and June. They require water when dry and a lot of sunshine.

Desert Plants

Yucca and agave look like cacti, but are desert plants, with the agave popularly known in the making of tequila. Both are ornamental garden plants and flower in the late spring. Aloe is another desert plant that looks like a cactus but is not. All have waxy stems, with the wax serving to retain the water that has been collected inside the plant. Aloe juice has been used for centuries to ease the pain of burns. All desert plants need a limited amount of water and, if in a pot, can be moved indoors during winter months. Keep them in a place that allows sunshine to pour in.

Desert Trees

Acacias, verdes and palms are a few of the many desert trees popular in landscapes throughout the American Southwest. All grow with a minimum of care. The Joshua tree is a hardy plant but seldom used by landscape gardeners in desert areas. It is illegal to uproot a native growing Joshua tree, and it suffers from overwatering in garden settings. Part of the Yucca genus, the Joshua tree thrives in the Mojave Desert.

Desert Hedges

Landscaping with low-water hedging is possible if the right plants are selected for your climate. Look for low- or no-water plants such as the pittosporum. A midsized pittosporum grows into a nicely rounded hedge, and once it has been established, it doesn't need any maintenance or water. Its stems resemble leaves, but aren't. Instead, the puffiness is the water it has stored for the dry summer days. The pittosporum flowers in springtime. Another desert hedge is the evergreen myrtle. Its springtime white flowers turn into blue-black berries in the fall. The hedge is low maintenance, needs little water and tolerates temperature fluctuations.


About the Author


Jann Seal is published in magazines throughout the country and is noted for her design and decor articles and celebrity *in-home* interviews. An English degree from the University of Maryland and extensive travels and relocations to other countries have added to her decorating insight.