If you think desert plants are ugly plants that can only thrive in dry areas, then you’re wrong. These plants have found their way into homes and now make an important part of gardening plants. One reason why landscapers now love these plants is that they preserve water and are easy to care for.
If you have a desert garden, these will be the most interesting plants to grow. But you must understand which specific categories can survive with your home’s climatic condition. This article outlines 27 different desert plants together with a brief explanation for each.
To help make your reading easy, we’ve divided them into five categories. Let’s have a look at these amazing plants to help you adorn your garden with the best.
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Think of those summer seasons when the sun is too hot, and there are no blooming flowers or green grass. Well, your garden doesn’t have to take the ugly look if you choose to grow the following wildflowers.
1. Desert Willow Tree (Chilopsis linearis)
Image credit: CameliaTWU
If you love colors and want to adorn your garden with yellow, white, pink, and purple flowers, Desert Willow should be your ideal plant. The small tree doesn’t grow above 30 feet. Well, you don’t need a very big tree to adorn your beautiful garden.
The beautiful tree will not only add color to your garden but also emit a beautiful fragrance. The bees and all types of birds are attracted to this fragrance. This means you’ll wake up to beautiful melodies from your garden every morning. Get yourself a desert willow, and enjoy the beautiful summer shade.
2. Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
Image credit: Katja Schulz
This wildflower has an association with the Virgin Mary. The beautiful name was derived from the name Mary’s Gold. But its importance is not only on this but what it adds to your garden. Desert Marigold is mostly found on roadsides during the months of March to November.
The plant forms a thick yellow blanket that neatly covers the landscape with its beautiful buds sealed with a hardball. They’re indeed perfect ornament plants to have in your home.
Related: Marigold flower care
3. Desert Lily (Hesperocallis)
Image credit: SLWorking2
This is not the true lily that we all know. Desert lily got its name due to the fact that it produces lily-like white flowers. It’s commonly seen along desert roads of Southwest and Mexico. The plant mostly grows during spring, with the seeds germinating in winter. The beautiful white flowers also feature silver or greed mid stripe and produce an amazing fragrant at night.
Related: Types of lilies
Image credit: Toshihiro Gamo
Lantana is a group of flowering desert plants native to Africa, Central America, and South America. They are also found in Australia, where they’re used as beautiful ornament plants. These plants produce small and bright flowers, usually of red, purple, yellow, white, and orange colors. The flowers produce a very aromatic fragrance and perfect for butterfly gardening.
5. Desert Sage (Salvia dorrii)
Desert sage is a very colorful wildflower that will really stand out in your garden. The flowers form bright purple and blue flowers with frosty gray foliage. They grow in dense branches and will maintain the shape perfectly without pruning. Their leaves release an aromatic fragrance that is sure to attract both humans and animals.
Hibiscus is another wonderful desert flower that loves the sunlight and the warmth of the desert. They grow all around the world. Many gardeners love them for their beautiful large flowers that are sure to adorn the garden with its aesthetic appeal. The plant is not only useful as an ornament, but some people utilize it to make tea high in Vitamin C.
Hibiscus is available in two different categories. These are the perennial and the tropical hibiscus. Tropical hibiscus doesn’t live longer than one season, while the tropical one can survive longer but not all the four seasons.
Edible Desert Plants
Did you ever think that you’d starve to death when you find yourself in the wilderness? Well, that’s not going to happen. There is a lot to eat in the desert, thanks to the work of nature. Here are different types of edible plants you should never be afraid to try out.
7. Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)
Prickly pear is a famous dessert food. The tree produces edible flowers, fruits, and pads. You can comfortably enjoy them after carefully cleaning and removing the spines. The pads act as an important source of food, while the pears make sweet and juicy fruits. They produce essential nutrients such as Vitamin C and fiber.
Apart from being a delicacy, prickly pears also form a beautiful garden plant. They produce a beautiful green color during spring but can appear wilted in winter. Make sure the plant receives full sun and grows in well-drained soil.
Related: How to propagate Prickly Pear Cactus
8. Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)
Image credit: Rennett Stowe
This is another desert plant of the cactus family that also makes a very delicious meal. The tree produces edible fruits that have served the natives for years. They’re also used to prepare jelly and jam. Because Saguaro can grow up to 40 feet tall, you need a long pole to knock the fruits to the ground.
The tree also makes a beautiful garden ornament thanks to its ease of care. It produces beautiful flowers that bloom at night and close during the day to protect it from heat. The flowers form yellow and white colors. The tree can serve your garden for many years with very little care.
9. Cholla (Cylindropuntia)
Cholla comes in different varieties, and most of them are edible. The natives eat the immature flower buds, non-woody joints, and ripened fruit. The beautiful desert tree produces fruits that somehow resemble strawberries. Their joints are eaten raw and taste a little like kiwi.
However, you have to be very careful with jumping cholla because it can throw its spines at you. The spines are very painful when they prickle your skin and can be hard to remove from clothes. Most cholla varieties are covered in nasty spines that you must remove carefully before eating.
At a glance, you won’t even imagine that this plant with smoky flowers can form something edible. But you’ll be proven wrong the moment you find out the uses of this beautiful desert plant. The plant produces a special wood that is used to smoke meat. They emit some earthly flavor in the smoke that gives the meat a special taste.
Apart from that, the mesquite plant produces pods that look like garden peas. The natives grind these seeds to make nutritious flour rich in vital protein, iron, potassium, and manganese. They’re also a good choice for people with diabetes thanks to their glycemic index.
Image credit: Luke Jones
Another delicious plant you can find in the wilderness goes by the name Yucca. You’ll recognize this desert plant with its many spiky leaves all around it. If you happen to find yourself in the desert during the summer, you’ll find plenty of yucca fruits to eat. You can eat the fruits raw but are more delicious when grilled.
The leaves of this plant are also edible. They appear a little oily. You have to remove the skin, boil the inside, and then make a delicious vegetable. It looks like every part of yucca is edible because you can eat the roots too.
Poisonous Desert Plants
Now that you know what to eat in the desert, you must also know what not to eat. Some desert plants are extremely poisonous. Some can cause absent stomach or allergies. Stay away from those with milky sap. Don’t touch any red beans. To be safe, stay away from any plant you know nothing about. Here are those plants that you shouldn’t touch in the desert.
Datura is a poisonous plant right from its fruit stem, leaves, all the way to the roots. The plant produces fruits with spines. It has a hallucinogenic effect, which has tempted many people to experience it.
It causes hallucination, confusion, rapid heart rate, and inability to sweat or urinate. The effects can last many hours to days, depending on the amount ingested. Datura can even result in death in extreme cases.
You’ll recognize this plant with its leaves and flowers, which are six inches long. It produces beautiful white or pink flowers that are also known as the devil’s trumpets. The entire plant grows about two feet tall.
13. Texas Mountain Laurel (Dermatophyllum secundiflorum)
Image credit: Micklpickl
This is a shrub member of the legume family. The desert plant is dangerous to both humans and animals. Like datura, it’s also a hallucinogen that has tempted many people to experience.
The plant has beautiful purple flowers with a nice fragrance. They also have woody pods with red seeds. But don’t let it attract you with its beauty because it’s very toxic. The toxic component of this plant is cytosine. The component has similar effects on nicotine. Chewing it can cause nausea, fast heart rate, seizures, muscle weakness, and hallucination.
14. New Mexico Locust (Robinia neomexicana)
Image credit: Al_HikesAZ
This is a deciduous desert tree commonly found in Arizona. They produce beautiful picking flowers. The flowers bloom in late spring and early summer. They then dry up, giving room to hairy bean-like pods. A bite of these pods is enough to kill an animal or a child. Children are the most vulnerable to this plant; hence you should not grow it near them.
Also, be careful about the leaves because they can also cause serious skin irritation. You should also be careful with the spines because they have very sharp edges that can prickle the skin.
Related: Types of locust trees
15. Desert Tobacco (Nicotiana obtusifolia)
Desert tobacco is a pretty looking plant but can be very dangerous. The plant blooms in spring. It blossoms with greenish-white or pale yellow flowers with trumpet shape. Its seeds are small and brown. The plant itself is sticky and covered with small hairs. The nightshade family plant contains nicotine and alkaloids, which are very dangerous substances.
Desert tobacco is poisonous to both animals and people. Its lethal effects vary with the size and age of the animals and humans. Despite being poisonous, the plant can be used in ceremonies, medicine, and a source of pleasure. They’re also used for landscaping.
16. Desert Rose (Adenium obesum)
Desert rose is also known as Adenium. It features a smooth and grey back. Despite being among the dangerous plants, it’s cultivated as a garden ornament. It’s also an attractive evergreen houseplant. It’s a desert plant that prefers to grow in dry seasons, well-drained soils, and part shade. They require very little maintenance.
The beautiful plant produces rose-like flowers with pink, white, and red colors. Because of their aesthetic appeal, you might be tempted to bring them home. However, the plant is lethal to humans and pets. Be very careful if you have children and pets around. It contains potent toxins that can kill if injected in large amounts.
Related: Types of roses
Cold Desert Plants
Cold deserts have a lot of salt and other chemical deposits. The areas experience a lot of snow and are very cold for many plants to survive. But they’re still plants that survive though they’ve mostly deciduous with spiny foliage. The unique plants have various adaptation mechanisms that make them survive the harsh tundra climate.
17. Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
Sagebrush is one of the dominant cold desert plants. They only grow to a height of half feet to four feet. They cover a large surface, and you can find them in up to 85% of the cold desert surface. They grow well in salty soil. The plant is most common in the Great Basin because these are the areas with large salt deposits.
You’ll recognize this plant with its grey leaves and pale yellow flowers. The flowers resemble sunflowers.
18. Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa)
This is a cold desert plant native to the Colorado Plateau. They can get moisture and salt. Their leaves and stems are coated with a layer of trichomes that keep them insulated. When mature, the trees are about one to four feet tall. They have yellow, green flowers that bloom from June to September.
You can plant Rubber Rabbitbrush in your garden. They adapt to different soil types but can do well in acidic to alkaline soil.
19. Tufted Saxifrage (Saxifraga cespitosa)
Image credit: Tufted Saxifrage
This is a small perennial desert plant. They have erect flowers with thick mats. They have thick and hairy foliage with tips divided into three lobes. The plants have an underground root system enabling them to tolerate the low temperatures of the cold deserts with ease.
You’ll mostly find this plant in rocky slopes and along crevices of the desert areas. They almost carpet the ground, protecting them from the harsh climate of the cold desert. They develop an adaption allowing them to adapt well to the tundra climate.
20. Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)
The Pasque flower has two unique adaptations that enable it to survive the tundra climate. One reason for their survival is because they’re covered with silky hairs providing perfect insulation for the flowers. The second adaption is the closeness to the ground, making it escape the cold winds.
The plant has very beautiful and bell-shaped flowers that consist of sepals. It also forms dissected leaves and plumed seed heads. These qualities make it perfect as an ornament plant.
21. The Labrador Tea Plant (Rhododendron groenlandicum)
Image credit: Gander178
The Labrador tea plant is another cold desert plant with unique adaptations, allowing it to survive in the tundra climate with ease. The plant developed thick and leathery textured leaves that help it conserve moisture. It also has brown hair that collects moisture from the fog to support its survival.
Another unique adaptation of the Labrador tea plant is its closeness to the ground, which enabled it to escape the cold wind. The plant can also dodge predators thanks to its ledol substance that paralyzes predators. The plant can also survive a fire outbreak as it sprouts from the roots. All these adaptations help the plant survive the cold climate.
Related: Types of Rhododendrons
Succulent Desert Plants
, especially cacti, have become gardeners’ best friends. This is all thanks to their beauty and ease of management. There are many options to choose from in terms of color, shapes, and sizes. If you’re looking for some ideas, then here are common succulent desert plants for your garden.
22. Golden Barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
Image credit: Brian Gratwicke
The plants derived their name from the bulbous shape. They come with golden yellow spines with a striking flower on top. Their flowers are greenish-yellow and produce yellow or red fruits that sit on the cactus until they are pulled out. Golden barrel plants grow very slowly and are scarce. But once you land yourself one, you can have it in your garden for a long time.
Another thing special about this plant is that they’re disease-free and not easily attacked by pests. They are also edible plants.
23. Medicinal Aloe (Aloe vera)
Who doesn’t know the Aloe vera plant? These are very popular plants loved for their medicinal purposes around the world. They’re also important ornament plants. If you haven’t seen the plant itself, then you’ve probably seen it indicated in skincare products and ointments. They serve this purpose so well, thanks to their medically active photochemistry.
Medicinal Aloe is a stemless plant with thick flesh and green fleshy leaves. They produce pendulous flowers with serrated leaves. The plants are popular globally thanks because they can easily grow in arid regions.
24. Bunny Ear Cactus (Opuntia microdasys)
Image credit: Blake Wile
When you look at this cactus, you’ll think they don’t have any spines at all. From a close look, you’ll notice that the specks adorning this beautiful cactus are tiny little spines. Well, the little spines can become a little stubborn when they catch your skin or clothes. But this doesn’t mean they don’t make beautiful plants for your garden.
All you have to do to adorn your garden with these beautiful plants is mimic the desert conditions that they flourish in. The plants are also very easy to plant, and even a kid can care for them.
25. Queen Victoria Agave (Agave victoriae-reginae)
Image credit: Brewbooks
You’re going to love this plant, not because it’s named after the famous Queen Victoria of England. The beautiful desert plant that also does well in the garden is native to the Chihuahuan desert located in Mexico. The plants appear like large rosettes with a look similar to that of an artichoke. They form a beautiful round shape and tight whorl-like foliage neatly arranged.
The drought-tolerant plants can grow so well in your garden and can last up to 15 years. They can serve your garden for a very long time if grown in good soil and well-irrigated.
26. Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
Image credit: James St. John
The Desert Spoon is a desert plant species in the asparagus family. The amazing succulent is native to Northern Mexico. This evergreen plant thrives well in the desert. Thanks to its drought-resistant nature, the plant has worked so well as an ornament for many homes. As long as you grow it in full sun, the plant will thrive so well and serve its purpose perfectly.
The plant forms a spoon-shaped base with a short trunk hence the name. It has a flowering stem that rises slightly above the foliage and produces straw-colored flowers small in size.
27. Living Stone Succulent
Image credit: Bill Gracey
A living stone is considered the best succulent that ever evolved, and nothing can be further from this. The plant is native to Southern Africa. The beautiful stone creates a beautiful blend of nature and has a unique way to protect itself from predators. The living stone plant looks exactly like pebbles or small stones. But from a closer look, they’re actually living plants.
If you live in dry climates, the plants are perfect and only need two inches or rainwater to thrive. Their thick stones are capable of storing water for a long time. They grow extremely slow and can take years to feel the pots with leaves. They’ll, however, die if you water them too often.
Desert plants are in plenty, and just like other types, they come in different species. Each of the plants is beautiful and unique in their own way.
However, it’s important to understand how every desert plant grows and unique uses before choosing one. You must know which one is good for the home garden and which one to keep away. With the above list, you’ll probably differentiate an edible desert plant and a poisonous see one.