Members of the grass family (Poaceae) are found throughout the world and in every climate imaginable. There are over 10,000 species of grass. In deserts such as the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, grasses often grow in clumps or bunches. When landscaping in a desert environment, native grasses may be considered as a low-maintenance alternative to traditional water-greedy lawn grasses.
One common type of desert grass native to the United States is black grama (Bouteloua eriopoda). Black grama is a perennial, tufted grass that reaches heights of up to 3 feet. It produces yellow flowers from June to October, and is found growing wild from the east Mojave desert to Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. Black grama grass needs little water and enjoys full sun. It can thrive in rocky, limestone-rich, loamy or clay soils.
Tobosa grass (Pleuraphis mutica) is also native to the deserts of the Southwestern United States. This perennial grass is found in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklamhoma on alluvial flats, dry mesas and rocky slopes. Like black grama grass, tobosa grass loves dry, rocky soils with little moisture and a good deal of direct sun.
Another desert grass that thrives in the United States is tanglehead (Heteropogon contortus). This variety is found in the Southwestern region, as well as in parts of Florida and Hawaii. Tanglehead grass grows in prairies, meadows, plains and pastures. It flourishes in dry, sandy loam. This clumping grass produces thin blades up to 1 foot high. Its yellow flowers bloom from March to December.
Cane bluestem (Bothriochloa barbinodis), also known as cane beardgrass, is another type of desert grass. This perennial grass can reach a mature height of up to 6 feet. It requires a bit more water than other types of desert grass. Cane bluestem loves full sun, and flourishes in clay and loam soils. Its yellow flowers emerge from April to August.
The deserts and dry plains of the United States are home to plains lovegrass (Eragrostis intermedia). This tufted, perennial bunchgrass can reach a height of up to three feet. Its pink and purple flowers blossom from May to October. Plains lovegrass is found throughout both the southwestern and southeastern regions of the country. Unlike many other desert grasses, it thrives in partial shade rather than full sun. It prefers well-drained, dry soil. This attractive grass is used in desert yards and gardens as a drought-resistant ornamental.
- University of Texas Native Plant Database: Bouteloua eriopoda
- University of Texas Native Plant Database: Pleuraphis mutica
- University of Texas Native Plant Database: Heteropogon contortus
- University of Texas Native Plant Database: Bothriochloa barbinodis
- University of Texas Native Plant Database: Eragrostis intermedia