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Desert Shrub Information

desert plants image by Carol Tomalty from

Desert shrubs grow in arid regions of the world that receive 20 inches of rainfall. Shrubs grow in the world’s great hot deserts including the Sahara, Sonora, Mojave and Great Australian, as well as in the cold deserts near the Arctic. The plants must adapt to extreme temperatures to survive.


Desert shrubs grow in one of four types of deserts—including hot, semi-arid, coastal and cold. In the hot and dry desert, the shrubs hug the ground, using their leaves to conserve water. These plants provide shade for small mammals and birds. In the semi-arid desert, sagebrush and other types of bushes grow that provide shelter for small animals. Along the coastal desert, the shrubs grow roots that stay very close to the surface so they can soak up rain. In the cold desert, the bushes grow as deciduous plants to take advantage of the short summer-growing season before losing their leaves until the following spring.


A variety of shrubs grow in the desert including tumbleweed, a symbol of the American western deserts, most commonly seen when wind pushes the round, dry balls across the landscape. Brittle bush grows in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts where it produces beautiful yellow flowers in the spring. Other bushes include turpentine bush, creosote and prickly pears. In the cold deserts, shrubs grow very close to the ground and include several types of willows.


While the climate in deserts varies in temperature, the minimal amount of rainfall remains the desert’s most common characteristic. Desert climates stay dry because the air coming down from high-pressure zones gets heated from the hot ground before it can turn into rain. A range of hot and cold temperatures also causes shrubs to adapt. In the hot and dry desert, shrubs must deal with warm days and soaring summer temperatures. In the semi-arid desert, the climate consists of hot, dry summers and mild winters. Coastal deserts feature hot summers and cool winters with temperatures dropping down to freezing. Shrubs in the cold desert must deal with lots of snow in the winter and cool, short summers.


The lack of rainfall in the desert causes the shrubs to adapt with specialized vegetation to take advantage of every drop of water. Adaptations include using dew for moisture and getting water through their leaves and stems. Some shrubs also grow very shallow roots to take advantage of rain, while also relying on a long tap root to reach down to water stored in the ground.


Wildlife, including small mammals and birds, rely on desert shrubs for food and shelter. In deserts with few or no trees, animals rely on the bushes for shade from the hottest part of the day. Aboriginal people rely on the shrubs for food and medicine.

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