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Plants in the Wyoming Desert

desert plants image by Carol Tomalty from

The picturesque and seamless beauty of Wyoming’s expansive Red Desert--with the Killpecker Sand Dunes, the Great Divide Basin and its sagebrush steppe--is home to thousands of native plant species. These plants provide a natural habitat and food source for the desert’s varied wildlife. Many of the native plants are endemic and restricted to the Wyoming desert, while others can be found growing throughout neighboring regions.

Indian Ricegrass

Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymneoides)--a perennial bunchgrass native to Wyoming and most of the western half of North America--thrives in hot to cool temperature regions. It is a very attractive grass often planted to beautify landscapes. Indian ricegrass is also cultivated as feed for livestock and provides abundant food and adequate shelter for wildlife. It grows from spring through fall, reaching 2 feet at mature height, and produces small yellow flowers in late spring. Indian ricegrass is drought-tolerant and lives in dry to moderately-moist soil conditions and full-sun exposure. Other botanical names for Indian ricegrass are Stipa hymenoides and Oryzopsis hymenoides.

Beaked Hazelnut

Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta), a perennial shrub or tree of the Betulaceae or birch family, is native to the Wyoming desert area and most of North America’s mid-region. It reaches 15 feet at mature height, grows in moist to moderately dry soils, and needs full sun to shade. Its yellow flowers bloom in early spring, and its edible, acorn-like fruit or nuts mature in the fall.


Squirreltail, a perennial graminoid member of the Poaceae or grass family, grows in the Wyoming desert area, and most of the western half of the United States as well as in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. Known as bottlebrush, squirreltail and big squirreltail due to its brush-like appearance, this cool-season, fire-resistant bunchgrass has a strong rooting system that prevents soil erosion. It actively grows in the spring, reaching less than 2 feet in height, and its small yellow flowers bloom in mid-spring. Squirreltail is drought tolerant. It grows in full sun and in moderately moist to dry soils.

Common Sunflower

The common sunflower grows in the Wyoming desert area and throughout most of North America. A native and domesticated crop, common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) has been used by many Native American nations, including the Navajo, Cherokee and Hopi, for food and medicine. It is an annual forb member of the Asteraceae or daisy, sunflower or aster family. Common sunflower actively grows and blooms in the summertime, reaching 9 feet in height, and its flower heads produce numerous sunflower seeds. It grows only in full sun and needs moist soil until the plant is well established. Afterwards, it can survive in moderately dry soil conditions. Common sunflower is also known as annual sunflower, mirasol and Kansas sunflower.

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