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Endangered Plants of the Desert

desert image by Horticulture from

Deserts are dry areas that occur around the world. From the African Sahara to the Sonoran in Arizona and Mexico to the Australian outback, deserts are harsh environments where only the toughest plants and animals can survive. All desert regions have endangered plants. Humans are the primary threat to desert plants because of construction that causes changes in the environment. Invasive plant and animal species also contribute, as do natural events such as floods and fires.

Southern California

The Algodones Dunes in Imperial County are part of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, which encompasses 184,000 acres in the Colorado Desert of Southeastern California. The Algodones Dunes spread for 40 miles and are the largest sand dune in California. This area experiences high summer heat—up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit—and receives less than 20 inches of rain yearly. Endangered plants in this ecosystem include pasmmophites (sand-loving plants) such as the dune primrose, Peirson’s milkvetch, the Algodones Dunes sunflower, Wiggins’ croton and the giant Spanish needle.

Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert is the hottest desert in North America and covers 120,000 square miles in southeastern California, southwestern Arizona, much of Baja California and western areas of Sonora state in Mexico. Cities that are located in this sprawling desert include Palm Springs, California, and Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. Native plants that are on the federal endangered species list include Arizona agave, Kearney’s blue star, Cochise pincushion cactus, Arizona cliffrose, Arizona hedgehog cactus, Brady pincushion cactus, Siler pincushion cactus, San Francisco Peaks groundsel and Tumamoc globeberry.

Sahara Desert and South Africa

The Sahara Desert sits in the center of the African continent and is home to many plants and animals. It is the world’s largest and hottest desert—it occupies 5.3 million square miles of land. Plant species are few because of salty soil and dry weather. The species that survive must be very hardy, but some struggle to survive and are classified as endangered. Among them are the umbrella thorn, the leopard orchid and king protea in South Africa.


Throughout Australia, more than 60 plant species are classified as endangered. Land cleared for agriculture, fires, feral animals, invasive plant and animal species and diseases are some of the causes of declining numbers of plant populations. Included in the list of endangered Australian desert plants are the following: Tumat grevillea, Wee Jasper grevillea, bindoon starbush, Wollemi pine, Davies’ waxflower, Spalding blowngrass, Tuggeranong lignum and basalt greenhood.

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