The diversity of Arizona’s desert plants is as staggering as it is beautiful. Throughout Arizona’s deserts, the local flora is designed to thrive in an arid, unforgiving environment. With that design, comes thorns, spines, and absolutely gorgeous colors. Beans, fruits, pods, and of course, a multitude of flowers adorn this literal smorgasbord to ensure desert wildlife is kept well fed amid a sea of visually stimulating desert vegetation. For the sake of organization we will break these desert plants into three categories; Flowering plants, cactus, and trees. Check out the desert plants list below and then plan a trip to an Arizona state park to enjoy the diversity found there!
Arizona’s flowering plants bloom at various times of year, although the spring wildflower season is generally the best time to view unforgettably vibrant fields of color. Provided there has been ample late winter/early spring rains, Arizona’s deserts absolutely come alive from late February through April and draw in visitors from around the world to admire the splendor. Many of these flowering desert plants attract hummingbirds as well to truly accentuate a colorful springtime park experience!
Marsh Aster is found in riparian and drainage zones throughout Arizona. As the name implies, this forb is found within close proximity to a regular water source.
Many of Arizona's rocky desert slopes and hillsides are alive with the yellow flowers of brittlebush in the spring. This is a very common, yet extremely gorgeous wildflower species.
This member of the lily family has a large range that encompasses the lowest deserts up to seven-thousand feet! Bluedicks may not actually be blue, depending where you are...White, purple, and pink flowers may be expereinced throught their range.
The semi-succulent tubular flowers of the chuparosa are typically red, although orange and yellow variants can be found throughout the sonoran desert range. Chuparosa flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds wintering in the desert.
Typically found below 4,500 feet in central and southern Arizona, the (usually) bluish-purple flowers of this pretty annnual can vary to varying degrees of pink and even white. Flowering season is March to May.
Of the 16 species of Salvia found in Arizona, the Desert variety is by far the most widespread. The blue (or purple) flowers typically bloom from March to May at desert elevations below 3500 feet.
This small member of the sunflower family sports white flowers, is usually less than two-feet tall, and occurs in gravel or sandy areas of both the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts between 200 and 3,000 feet in elevation.
A conspicuous desert perennial with a short life span that flowers in March and intermittently through November. Found on rocky slopes and sandy areas of the desert floor from 100 to 6000 feet in elevation.
Found from the desert floor up to 4500 feet in elevation, these annual herbs commonly bloom on the sandy desert floor and associated topography like hills and washes.
This annual herb is usually found in desert washes and other sandy locations below 3000 feet in elevation. This ground level desert plant grows in clusters adorned with small white flowers.
The california poppy is found throughout the Sonoran Desert and in great abundance during years of above-average precipitation.
Typically found in desert washes and valleys below 4500 feet, these white flowers seem to be "ghostily" floating on their tall (up to 2.5 ft.) thin stalks.
The thin, whispy flowers range from light pink to orange throughout the desert region. The Fairy Duster, an importand food item for a variety of desert dwelling birds and animals, is found below 5,000 feet on open hillsides and sandy washes.
During years of above-average rainfall, the yellow-orange flowered fiddlenecks will be particularily abundant and found in dense patches in the upland desert. This plant irritates human skin upon contact.
This small biennial to annual flowering herb is actually a member of the mustard family. Interestingly, the white flowers turn to yellow the further east in range occourance. In Arizona most jewelflowers are white.
This forb can reach a height of over six feet tall throughout its range. The thistle blooms from March through September after above-average rainfall.
A small spring annual that grows in large "mats" sporting numerous purple flowers. Present only after above-average winter precipitation in desert flats, and somewhat rocky areas near washes.
After periods of above-average rainfall, these beautiful annual forbs can produce huge swaths of color in generally open desert areas from March through May.
A small, delicate, annually recurring herb, the Rock Daisy is usually found in relatively open rocky or sandy desert areas.
Scorpion weed usually blooms from February through June and is found typically along desert washes and hillsides between 1,000 feet and 4,000 feet.
Flowering best during years of above-average desert rainfall, these small yellow flowers typically occur in western Arizona between 300 ft and 6000 ft elevation.
Arizona's diverse desert plant communities just wouldn't be complete without cacti! The varying cacti species of Arizona conjour up visions of western culture and have even become synonomous with the culture of the Grand Canyon State. Mention Arizona to anyone not living here and they will most likely have the thought of a tall and mighty saguaro or fruit laden pricly pear! Spend enough time here and you'll have memorable encounters with cacti. Unforgettable seas of red blooms atop ocotillos are nice, so is the melon scent of a saguaro flower...But then again, memories in cactus country typically involve a pair of tweezers.
The barrel cactus is a very hardy plant and can be found from the desert floor up to 5,000 feet in elevation. Flowers appear in the late summer and may be yellow, orange, or red depending on location.
Six varieties of buckhorn cholla occur throughout the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of Arizona. Blooms take place from April-May and both flower color and spination may differ between individual specimens across the range.
The chain fruit cholla occurs between 500 and 2,500 feet in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. The fruits are an important food item for desert wildlife and can grow continually throughout the year. Magenta flowers bloom from April to September, Although June is the peak bloom.
Found throughout much of the Sonoran Desert country of central and southern Arizona from 3,000 to 5,300 feet in elevation. Brilliant red or pink flowers appear in April or May.
The name Prickly Pear represents over 12 varieties of padded cacti found throughout the American Southwest. Several species are found throughout Arizona from sea-level up to 8,000 ft. The fruits are an importand food item for wildlife and are usually ripe during the summer.
The ocotillo is common throughout the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and prefers to grow where the soil is well drained like rocky slopes and along high-desert washes. Bright red/orange flowers bloom during spring or early fall.
The Saguaro is a Sonoran Desert icon and also the most easily identifiable of Arizona's cacti species is not very frost resistant and prefers to live below 3,500 feet. Arizona's state flower blooms from the Saguaro from late April to June and opens only at night being pollinated primarily by bats.
This super spiny cholla species can be found below 3,000 feet in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts on warm, open hillsides, rocky washes, and sandy flats. Teddy Bear Cholla may flower twice each year, once from March to June, and again in September.
The desert trees that occur in Arizona's Sonoran Desert are very beneficial to the wildlife and other plants within their communities. The shade created by desert trees gives animals a much needed break from the summer sun and gives other plants that don't require full sunlight a chance to thrive. Trees house birds and grow food by way of beans and flowers that desert birds and animals both use to help them thrive in the harsh desert environment.
Found typically within chaparrel habitats, flats, and along washes below 4,500 feet, the catclaw acacia is a desert staple that flowers annually between April and October. Hikers beware of the short "cat claw" type thorns that can tear clothing and skin!
The Ironwood is a relatively large desert tree that might grow to 30 feet or more near desert foothills or desert wash comminities below 2500 feet in elevation. Pale purple or white flowers bloom from May to June.
Another large desert tree, the mesquite favors drainage corridors of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. Mesquites produce beans that are utilized by desert wildlife and yellow flowers from March to August.
The foothill palo verde grows wildly throughout the Sonoran Desert below 4,000 feet and usually prefers the slopes of hillsides and other mountanous regions over desert wash communities. Bright yellow flowers bloon from April to May.